By Alois Vinga
Just over a year ago, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for an end to corruption in the state tender process.
Anti-corruption campaigners and opposition politicians are still waiting for significant change.
The failure to address systemic corruption in the state tender process, such as conflicts of interest, backroom deals and bribes, has added to the country’s economic and social woes, worsened by the shock from the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Corruption remains the biggest problem affecting procurement in Zimbabwe,” said Prosper Chitambara, an economist with the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe. “The process remains opaque, while sidelining key public actors like parliament and civil society organisations.”
Mnangagwa’s speech on May, 30 2019 launched the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, or PRAZ, to tackle corruption in the state tender system. The new agency replaced the State Procurement Board (SPB) under former President Robert Mugabe.
“The past culture of collusion between public officials and cartels or third parties in our procurement systems should be stopped,” said Mnangagwa, who pledged “zero tolerance” for corruption when he took power in August 2018.
An amendment to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act (PPDPA) sought to end a process that allowed corruption to flourish in previous years, and also ushered in a new PRAZ board headed by chief executive, Nyasha Chizu.
Chizu said the revised law established oversight units, known as PMU’s, within government offices staffed accountants.
“They are allowed to procure goods within a stipulated threshold and if their needs exceed the set limit, they are required to approach PRAZ,” he said, “PMUs must keep detailed and verifiable records.”
Critics, however, accuse Mnangagwa of failing to follow through on promised anti-corruption reforms. His government is engulfed in corruption scandals, with two ministers arrested on high-level corruption charges over the past year.
Muchaneta Mundopa, executive director of Transparency International Zimbabwe, said the amended PPDPA has so far changed little.
For example, the US$183 million Gwanda National Solar project and others entered into before the amendment took effect have not been cancelled, she noted.
She said due diligence still needed to be made mandatory for all public procurement, as well as barring bidders with past criminal convictions from participating in procurement processes.
Zimbabwe currently ranks 140 out of a total of 190 nations in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, which assesses countries on the ease of doing business. The rankings are closely watched by investors.
Lara Saade of the World Bank’s Global Governance Practice unit said the new procurement legislation, if fully implemented, can help improve transparency and efficiency “by publishing procurement plans, procurement notices and contract award notices by all procuring entities.”
For now, Zimbabwe’s corruption is both acknowledged and hidden.
Mnangagwa recently sacked his health minister, Obadiah Moyo, after he was arrested for corruption involving a deal to procure COVID-19 tests and equipment from international pharmaceutical firm Drax International LLC.
Prosecutors claim that Drax, which is headquartered in Dubai, was illegally awarded contracts by the health ministry without going through the proper tender procedures.
Moyo did not respond to efforts to contact him for comment. Drax International has denied the allegations.
Zimbabwe Building Contractors Association president, Francis Mangwendeza, accused government of favouring foreign firms over Zimbabwean companies.
He said the Kariba South power extension, airport road construction and the Hwange thermal power expansion projects were awarded to foreign firms.
“We have been pushing for the Contractors Bill to be passed into law for the last 20 years,” he said, adding: “This legal piece will legally enforce the rating of contractors and this will close the gaps where anyone can just register and get a job in the next 24 hours.”
Nicholas Mazarura, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers Union (ZCATWU), said foreign companies are often favoured over local firms.
For example, China’s construction company Sinohydro Corp was awarded a contract for the Hwange Power Station unit 7 and 8 expansion, a $1.5 billion deal to boost power generation at the coal-fired plant, without competing bids from Zimbabwean companies, he said. The company subcontracted part of the work to two other Chinese companies, Mazarura said.
“These companies are not respecting labour laws and we can’t hold them to account because they enjoy government protection,” said Mazarura.
African governments have increasingly turned to China for investment to help their economies desperate for new roads, power and water.
Zimbabwe’s government did not immediately respond to emails for comment about Sinohydro. Efforts to reach Sinohydro for comment by email, including through China’s embassy in Harare, were unsuccessful.
Opposition leader and former finance minister, Tendai Biti, said the amended law was being ignored.
“The PPDPA is being left to gather dust as top government officials bypass it in their quest to move huge amounts of money to foreign destinations after making a killing on unjustifiably inflated contracts,” he said.
This story was produced by www.NewZimbabwe.com . It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.