Parly Laptop Scandal: Government could be losing millions of US$ through tender irregularities

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By Anna Chibamu

PARLIAMENT has taken the treasury to task over its failure to deal with over-pricing of goods and services by suppliers to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

Nobert Machinjike, Director Expenditure Management representing Finance ministry secretary George Guvamatanga was grilled on Monday during an oral hearing evidence meeting by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

PAC members raised concerns that the government could be losing millions of US$ through over-pricing of goods and services by suppliers.

The members added that the treasury had no mechanisms to deal with errant officers in MDAs on tender procurement processes.

PAC demanded to know how much treasury had lost through over-pricing and how many companies were involved in fraudulent tender deals besides the two that were exposed in the laptop tender scandal.

This comes after the treasury cancelled a laptop tender deal between Parliament and two companies, Bilnart Investments P/L and Mid-End Computers and Hardware P/L last year.

Responding to questions from PAC members, Machinjike indicated the two companies were blacklisted from government procurement processes.

The companies had been awarded the tender to supply Parliament 173 laptops and 79 desktops respectively.

Bilnart quoted Parliament US$1 602 755,77 to supply the 173 laptops with each gadget sold for an inflated US$9 264,48.

Mid-End Computers and Hardware had quoted each of the 79 desktops at US$3 076.61 to amass US$243 052,36.

Parliament would have forked out US$1 845 808.13.

During deliberations, members queried why the treasury had not yet sanctioned all MDAs where there was loss and also not acted on time to stop the “dubious” procurement processes.

Machinjike told the committee that although Parliament had awarded the laptop and computer tender to the companies, no request for payment had been made.

The MPs further asked Machinjike what his ministry had done since the laptop saga was exposed by an “anonymous” whistleblower last year leading to the treasury cancelling the tender.

“What specific action have you taken as a ministry on the irregular pricing by the procurement officers? What have you done to those who awarded the over-priced tender,” Willias Madzimure said.

It emerged that even after the tender had been cancelled and the two companies acknowledged over-pricing of the laptops and computers, the treasury still directed them to negotiate with Parliament.

The MPs demanded an explanation from Machinjike on why negotiations were continuing yet treasury, with the final decision on procurement had already cancelled the deal.

“Was there any need to continue with negotiations? On what basis since you already told us you blacklisted the companies after cancelling the deal?

“We want confirmation in writing that the two companies were blacklisted,” said Charlton Hwende.

Dexter Nduna requested to know why the ministry was interpreting statutes yet it was not a court of law.

“Why are you not dealing with the police on the matter?” Nduna asked.

“The responsibility to lay criminal charges is not ours but Parliament’s.”

However, the treasury has been accused by suppliers of not paying on time with companies alleging they charge more to cater for inflation.

Meanwhile, the Finance ministry told the committee it is in the process of establishing a new standardized pricing framework to deal with over-pricing in future.

“Finance minister has worked on a framework to come up with a standardized pricing for goods and services which are commonly used in government ministries and other departments.

“The first categories were completed on February 2, and we are still working in the other category to ensure that this (over-pricing) does not happen again where you see the pricing is varying from one ministry to another or from one agent to another,” added Machinjike.

Further, he said “the ministry was working on a framework to improve the cash flow management and this deals with financing what has been budgeted for; this ensures that we finance what we have budgeted for and also ensures that there is price stability.”