Chiwenga Wants Auditor General’s Wings Clipped

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By Anna  Chibamu

VICE President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga has triggered an amendment to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act which seeks to exclude the Auditor-General from the special procurement oversight committee.
He presented the principles for the amendment of the legislation to Cabinet Tuesday. The principles were accepted, implying the law will now be sent to the Attorney General’s office for drafting.
The law provides for control and regulation of public procurement and disposal of public assets to ensure it is transparent, fair, honest, cost-effective and competitive.
The move to amend the law is widely believed to be part of systematic efforts to undercut the influence of Auditor General Mildred Chiri, who has been relentless in her exposition of rampant mismanagement and abuse of public funds, especially through obscure and corrupt procurement process.
Recently, Chiwenga was accused of attempting to prevent the tabling in Parliament of a damning audit report which exposed how officials in the ministry he heads wantonly abused Covid-19 funds.
According to Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, the act in its current form does not sufficiently provide for capacity building of staff employed in public procurement roles, hence the often unsatisfactory compliance which undermines the integrity of public procurement processes.
“Cabinet has agreed that the Auditor General be excluded from the membership of the Special Procurement Oversight Committee. This is because one of the Auditor General’s functions in terms of section 309 of the Constitution is to audit the accounts, financial systems and financial management of all departments, institutions and agencies of Government as well as provincial and metropolitan councils and all local authorities,” Mutsvangwa said.
The minister also reported cabinet approved that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) should not serve as secretary to the Board of the State Procurement Oversight Committee.
“The board should appoint a suitably qualified, competent and experienced company secretary capable of maintaining a professional relationship with members of the board.”
Furthermore, the minister highlighted that the wording of the original act made it optional rather than mandatory for procuring entities to accord preferential treatment to domestic service providers by all procuring entities.
“Regarding the procurement of construction works, the Act will now make it mandatory for foreign suppliers to engage local contractors and to also promote technology and skills transfer,” she said.
The stand-still period, whereby procuring entities were not allowed to do anything for 14 days to allow for challenging of the award, will also be reduced to seven days if the amendments are effected.
“Cabinet agreed that the lengthy 14-day stand-still period be reduced to 7 days. This amendment will facilitate the expeditious delivery of supplies,  shorten the procurement cycle and ensure speedy project implementation,” Mutsvangwa said.
On Disposal of Assets to Employees, Cabinet noted that there is a  loophole in the current Act which leaves room for close family members to manipulate the disposal of public assets.
“Persons meeting the definition of “close family members” will now be disqualified from procuring public assets being disposed of, in order to promote fairness,” Mutsvangwa stated.