Fertilizer procurement

The Government owes the people of Zambia an explanation.

Two days ago the President addressed the nation on the fight against corruption. Today we publish a story on irregular purchase of fertilizer which seems to indicate a clear case of graft which is at odds with the pronouncement.

It defeats logic that as late as October 29 2013, midstream the agricultural season, the Government would be placing an order to purchase 42,000 tones of fertilizer from China.

Not only that, the fertilizer is supposed to be shipped through the Port of Dar-es-laam, a port that is already congested with more than 100,000 tonnes of fertilizer destined for Zambia, some of it, still on a ship stranded on the high seas because there is no place to berth as the Port has very limited carrying capacity for such bulk products.

It is difficult to see how the fertilizer will be shipped in time for the season when maize has already germinated and in some cases is knee high.

Not even the 200 trucks hired by Government will accomplish the mammoth task in the absence of TAZARA which has been crippled by legal and technical problems.

Logistics apart, serious questions have been raised about the manner in which the procurement process has been managed. It is common knowledge that all public procurement functions are vested in the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA).

It does not matter if the Chinese company offered the most favorable and incomparable advantages, single sourcing is anathema. All procurement must be advertised to give all possible bidders an opportunity to make an offer and enable Government choose among competing alternatives.

There is no indication that procedure has been followed in this matter. Instead the Minister of Agriculture Mr. Robert Sichinga has directed the Ministry officials to obtain the requisite clearance from ZPPA and Attorney General. This is not the procedure.

The ordinary procedure is to seek the approval and sanction of the Attorney general in the event of a contractual agreement and the clearance of the ZPPA in the case of seeking exemption of any procedures that govern procurement.

In this case the supplier has been identified long before the appropriate procedures have been put in place. This is highly irregular.

However what is most disturbing in this transaction is the insinuation that President Sata and indeed the entire Cabinet were fully aware of these breaches which render the transaction beyond the pale.

Ordinarily Ministers, although, political heads of Ministries are not technocrats who should be making far reaching decisions that should ordinarily be processed through the normal public policy formulation and implementation process.

In Government, this elaborate system precludes any one single individual from making procurement decisions that must be founded on proper information, analysis and consultation with relevant institutions and organizations.

This system is inbuilt to ensure that procurement is transparent and beyond challenge.

This particular procurement of 42,000 tons of fertilizer from China is highly questionable and must be explained to the Zambian people. The fact that an impression has been created that State House was involved in the procurement does not exonerate the transaction from scrutiny. If anything this makes it imperative that a thorough investigation is undertaken to establish all the facts surrounding the procurement. There should be no sacred cows in the fight against graft and corruption.