January 06, 2016

The Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International in partnership with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) have formulated a tool aimed at improving pro-competitive processes in public procurement.

This came to light during a closed roundtable meeting held at the Best Western Hotel in Lusaka recently where the tool, a public procurement checklist was presented to other stakeholders for comments and reviews.

Opening the roundtable discussion, CUTS board member Roseta Mwape said that the checklist was created out of the need to create simple procedures in public procurement. “Many times institutions resort to practices that turn anti-competitive in the long run, due to lengthy and or complex guidelines to conduct them.” Mrs. Mwape said that it is expected that the checklist would help to simplify the requirements under the law, and build-in a pro-competitive framework that procurement officers can rely on.

ZPPA Director General, Chibelushi Musongole welcomed the initiative and said that the authority was faced with some challenges in the administration of public procurement. Dr. Musongole highlighted lengthy procurement processes, delayed commencement of government projects, the lengthy appeal system in event of disputes, and unethical conduct by procurement agencies and bidders as some of the major areas of concern in public procurement. He further added that lack of capacity in procurement entities results in mishandling of the procurement processes and procedures, substandard bid evaluation and misinterpretation of the act.

However, Dr. Musongole also revealed that the ZPPA has been trying to put in place measures to address the stated challenges through the creation of information and communication technology based procurement system, Electronic Government Procurement (E-PG) which will be launched in due course. The measure is aimed at improving competition through reducing corruption and other malpractices by among other things reducing face-to-face transactions, efficient monitoring of contracts through the e-contract management system. The main objectives of the project are to increase disclosure availability of procurement information, enhance transparency and encourage civic participation in public procurement among others. “The advantage the system is that it can detect fraud and corruption, increase competition and monitoring service delivery.” Dr. Musongole said.

CCPC Executive Director Chilufya Sampa said that statistics indicate that government spends around 10% of Zambia’s gross domestic product, GDP on public procurement. In a speech read for him by Director of Legal and Corporate Affairs Maureen Banda Mwanza, Mr. Sampa said that the commission recognizes bid rigging as the most harmful anti-competitive practice in public procurement. This he said escalates the cost of goods and services as bid prices are pegged at sums high enough to carter for all the conspiring participants. He added that anti-competitive practices distort competition and artificially raise the cost of goods and services above the market prices.

Meanwhile, the Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal secretariat under the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry welcomed the tool. Head of secretariat Kelvin Kamayoyo said that the innovation of building in pro-competitive framework in public procurement is unique but it was important to keep up with the ever rapidly changing global procurement environment. Mr. Kamayoyo said that, entrenching competition tenets would help to safeguard competition in the procurement processes and help to create a platform that permits inclusive participation and fair playing field.

Stakeholders represented at the meeting and who gave comments included the Energy Regulation Board (ERB), Ministry of Commerce Trade and Industry, Ministry of Works and Supply, Centre for Trade and Policy Development (CTPD), Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR).