Parliament bosses summoned over US$9 000 laptops scandal
PARLIAMENT’S Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has summoned the House of Assembly’s administration to give oral evidence on the recent botched procurement scandal involving the acquisition of laptops exorbitantly priced at US$9 264.48 each.
This follows issues raised in the 2020 Auditor-General’s report on Appropriation Accounts, Finance and Revenue Statements and Fund Accounts which uncovered massive fuel looting, bad corporate governance and the flouting of tender processes.
Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda, the legislature’s accounting officer, and directors from various departments will appear before the Brian Dube-led committee on Monday.
Recently, Parliament found itself in the eye of a storm when leaked official communication revealed that it had awarded Blinart Investments (Private) Limited, whose chief executive is Elizabeth Muchenje, a tender to supply 173 laptops for a total of US$1 602 755.77, translating to US$9 200 per gadget and Mid-End Computers and Hardware Ltd another tender to supply 79 desktops valued at US$3 000 each.
Treasury quickly flagged and cancelled the inflated tender and blacklisted the companies involved.
Parliament, Treasury and Muchenje have issued conflicting statements on the tender scandal.
“Treasury notes with concern that these suppliers are charging US$9 264.48 and US$3 076.61 for a laptop and a desktop, respectively. These USD prices have been exorbitantly inflated way beyond those that are prevailing in the market and hence, are not acceptable,” wrote Guvamatanga in a letter that was copied to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri, Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive Clever Ruswa and other senior officials.
“Notwithstanding the high prices, the tender award is in complete disregard of the Treasury minute dated 3 August 2022, directing ministries to ensure value for money for government and hence, to rationalise all procurement processes with a view to operating within the confines of the willing buyer willing seller foreign exchange rate.”
“In this regard and to ensure value for money for government, in line with the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19) which empowers Treasury to manage and control resources, Treasury directs that this tender be cancelled and the concerned suppliers be blacklisted from any future government procurement process,’’ the letter further reads.
Chokuda in a Press statement released on 17 September said that he had directed the cancellation of the tender.
“Our due diligence processes indicated that the prices quoted were highly inflated. It is this particular point that on Friday 9th August 2022, I as the accounting officer directed the Parliament’s director procurement unit, in the presence of the director audit, to initiate cancellation of the tender to proceed with re-tendering as the quoted prices were not justified. It is in this regard, that no contract has been signed with any of the two suppliers, and no payment has been activated in respect of the two suppliers,’’ the Press release read in part.
Chokuda’s sentiments about ordering the cancellation of the tender on 9 August in the Press statement Parliament later released are contrary to the leaked official communication to Blinart Investments (Private) Limited and Mid-End Computers and Hardware Ltd dated on 29 August which explicitly stated that: “I take this chance to appreciate your efforts for the supply and delivery of 173 laptops and 79 all in one desktops.”
“The evaluation committee was impressed by your documentation and how you presented your bid. The award for the supply and delivery of 173 and 79 all in one desktops was awarded to the following bidders (Blinart Investments (Private) Limited and Mid-End Computers and Hardware Ltd) whose bid was more responsive to the proposal requirements.”
In light of this, effort by Chokuda to distance himself from the procurement scandal means that the director of the procurement unit disobeyed and proceeded to award the tender at his own peril.
Earlier this year, Parliament was also flagged in the Auditor-General’s report for massive fuel looting, bad corporategovernance, the procurement of goods without following tender processes and failing to provide documentation for its expenses in contravention of the law.
The Auditor-General noted that fuel meant for members of Parliament was not properly noted down by parliamentary staff and there could be reason to suspect looting as it was not clear what wasdisbursed and to who.
“A review of the MPs’ fuel register revealed that 22 000 litres (3 760 petrol and 18 260 diesel) fuel coupons distributed in March, June, October and
November 2020 had incomplete serial numbers recorded,” the 2020 Auditor-General’s report reads in part.
The report noted that the act was contrary to the law and exposed parliamentary fuel to looting.
“This was contrary to the provisions of section 104(1) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions), 2019 which requires entities to keep complete record of fuel received and issued. There was no evidence that records were reviewed regularly by an independent senior official,” the report further reads.
Chiri also noted in her report that the procurement of goods in Parliament was not transparent.
She said it was open to manipulation as several items were procured without following tender processes.
“Goods worth ZW$12 906 032 were procured without following tender procedures. This could have been due to lack of training of staff assigned to carry out procurement functions.”
On direct payments, Chiri said: “I noted that a total of ZW$15 347 443 (US$613 893) direct payments made on behalf of Parliament by the ministry of Finance and Economic Development were not disclosed in the appropriation account for the year 2020.
“The risks and implications are that the total expenditure figures disclosed in the appropriation account may be materially understated because of the direct payments which were not posted to the relevant general ledgers.”
She said, consequently, there may be a risk of double payments to the suppliers and recommended that the appropriation account should be adjusted to incorporate the direct payments.
“Follow up of direct payments should be done with ministry of Finance and Economic Development to ensure that direct payments are posted to relevant general ledgers,” the report added.
On payment of vouchers, Chiri said: “34 SAP documents with a value of ZW$14 220 243 were not availed for audit. I could not confirm with certainty the expenditure incurred.
“There was no evidence of supervision of the finance personnel by relevant senior officials to ensure records were being maintained properly.
“In the absence of proper and completerecord keeping, fictitious payments may be made.
“Records for payment of vouchers should be properly maintained and availed for audit when required. Finance personnel should be supervised by senior officials to ensure proper record keeping,” read part of the recommendations in part.
“Parliament has not been recording revenue in the system, neither was it performing bank reconciliations for revenue received. There was no evidence of communication between Parliament and the PFMS Project office (public finance management system) on system challenges being faced.
“The internal audit department was incapacitated since 2019 as it operated with only one officer instead of four.
Interviews to fill the three vacant posts were conducted in November 2018. No appointments had been made at the time of conducting the audit in September 2021. The risk is that there may be risk of limited audit coverage and inadequate monitoring of Parliament’s internal controls.”
Parliament, Chiri said, acted contrary to the requirements of section 48 (3) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) 2019, which stipulate that money should be deposited daily in the local bank for the credit of the exchequer account. Parliament delayed in banking US$16 062 by a period ranging from 60 to 135 days.
Meanwhile, legislators like Norton’s independent MP Temba Mliswa have been calling for a forensic audit for all procurement deals processed since 2013.