Ministry queried on ambulance deal

The Ministry of Health went behind the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to issue the controversial K4 billion ambulance contract to Paramount Holdings.

Meanwhile, the Government Contracting Unit (GCU), which—just like ACB also vets high-value contracts—said it raised concerns with legal compliance issues surrounding the Paramount contract and had advised the ministry to consult the Attorney General before issuing the contract.

Government officials dine with some of the bidders in Dubai

The ministry, however, insists that it followed all due procedures in the award of the contract.

The procurement law requires that the ACB vets all single-sourcing and high-value contracts, but the bureau’s senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala confirmed in an e-mail response that the bureau did not vet the award of the K4 billion contract to Paramount Holdings.

Section 37 (11) of the PPDA Acts: “Single source method of procurement or any high value procurement shall be subject to vetting by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, pursuant to the powers conferred on the bureau under Section 10 of the Corrupt Practices Act”.

Banda: There were a number of anomalies

GCU director Janet Banda told Nation on Sunday that they scrutinised the ambulance deal between MoH and Paramount Holdings but raised a number of compliance issues.

Said Banda: “Yes the GCU vetted and advised the Ministry of Health to seek legal advice from the Attorney General since there were a number of anomalies in the proposed contract regarding compliance with the law. The contract was to be signed after these were addressed”.

Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale told Nation on Sunday yesterday that he gave a legal opinion to the Ministry of Health and though he could not disclose the opinion as it was confidential, it was not related to the vetting requirement under Section 37 of the PPDA Act.

“The consultation was on some other aspects of the transaction; hence my legal advice contains no material on Section 37 of the PPDA [Act],”

We could not independently establish whether the anomalies Banda raised or the AG’s advice were taken on board, but Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango in brief response to our questionnaire which had raised eight questions said: “we followed all the procedures in this contract”.

This is not the first time this ambulance deal is embroiled in controversy.

In June this year, we reported how government officials went on a tour of countries to inspect ambulances – under the sponsorship of bidders who later expressed frustration for spending without value. This was after a drama of twice bid cancellation and re-advertisement before government settled for Paramount Holdings whose competitor was Movesa.

The ministry wrote the PPDA to award a no objection to Paramount for the supply of 100 ambulances while Movesa complained that it incurred a lot of costs related to the inspection.

The sponsoring of the trips made the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) whose acting then director Timothy Kalembo raised eyebrows, saying they would investigate the matter as the PPDA Act was clear that public officers should avoid conflict of interest.

In granting its No Objection, the PPDA allowed government to buy at least over 70 ambulances in line with available funds of K4 billion.

Malango said 40 ambulances arrived in the country, adding that the deal is for the purchase of 74 ambulances.

In a telephone interview last Friday on allegations of ‘misconduct’ on the part of Ministry officials who pocketed allowances from bidders, Malango said it was up to any investigating authority to take up the matter if they have any evidence.

ACB told Nation on Sunday that it has not yet registered any complaint on the matter.

“The bureau is not aware of the alleged conduct of the said public officers. The bureau would like to request that you provide the necessary information such as names of officers involved and when they undertook the travels in order for the bureau to be able to take necessary action on the matter.

“It is disturbing to note that the said bidders are crying foul after they initially consented to paying what they paid instead of them reporting to the bureau. One wonders whether they would have done the same had they been awarded the said contract,” said Ndala. n

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