By Fungi Kwaramba
Government is bypassing the State Procurement Board (SPB) in its implementation of the hyped Command Agriculture initiative in violation of the law, which requires that all projects worth US$10 000 or above should go through formal tender to enable it to get the best money can buy.
The Daily News can exclusively reveal that none of the Command Agriculture projects have gone through the SPB as is required under the State Procurement Act, with bureaucrats in President Robert Mugabe’s administration questions whether the taxpayer is getting the best deal when sourcing equipment, inputs and loans under the programme.
All State agencies namely ministries, departments, parastatals, local authorities are required by law to procure their purchases, loans, transfer or hire of supplies or services through the SPB.
This is meant to achieve efficiency and integrity in public procurement and to guarantee sound public service delivery while maintaining citizens’ trust in government. An efficient public procurement should be cost-effective, fair, transparent and effective.
The only exception to this is when there is a directive to that effect from Mugabe, which order should be issued in line with the Act.
Investigations by the Daily News, however, revealed that no such directive was issued by Mugabe.
Besides, such a directive can only have force and effect once published in the Government Gazette in line with Section 20 (5) of the Act, which was not the case.
Bypassing the SPB is a serious offence, which attracts a jail term of heavy penalties.
Where there is opaqueness in the handling of multi-million dollar projects, like in this case, anti-graft bodies have been quick to suspect that brown envelopes could easily change hands underneath the table.
Last year, government launched Command Agriculture to help the country regain its breadbasket status, after ruinous land reforms hurriedly instituted ahead of the 2000 elections reduced Zimbabwe to a basket case.
At its launch last year, the project was estimated to be worth US$500 million and involved the procurement and distribution of key agricultural inputs to about 2 000 farmers selected for the programme.
The broke Zanu PF government has roped in Sakunda Holdings to do much of the work. The company is also involved in the 200 megawatt emergency diesel power plant in Dema, which was implemented without sticking to the detects of the law.
Government has since gone a gear up with its Command programme, expanding the initiative to include winter wheat and cattle.
Sakunda has so far planted a whopping $264 million for the maize programme and has also roped in banks to help finance wheat production.
Legal experts and opposition political parties this week said any deal involving government should go through the tendering process, never mind that someone could have offered to bankroll the programme as is the current case.
They said the programme was being used by Zanu PF as a campaigning tool ahead of make-or-break elections next where in which Mugabe is expected to square off with MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, for the fifth time, since the trade unionist broke onto the political scene in 1999.
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu, alleged this week that the project had also become the avenue for the enrichment of a few in Zanu PF, in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on the fringes of poverty.
He questioned how Sakunda Energy was selected without other companies not being offered the opportunity to present their bids as well.
“The State Procurement Board is totally out of the picture because the money is not channelled through the national Treasury,” he said.
“This is a classic case of State capture by big international business tycoons . . . ,” added Gutu.
Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo has been one of the most vocal critics of the exercise.
“I support Command Agriculture but not its corrupt implementation as a looting scheme and a parallel structure for a Lacoste power grab,” said Moyo.
Efforts to get an official comment from the ministry of Finance were fruitless, with officials from the SPB not responding to questions sent to them on Tuesday last week.
Under current regulations, for purchases that are below $10 000, referred to as competitive quotations, only three quotations — sourced even by telephone — are required.
For purchases between $10 000 and $300 000, the accounting officer or chief executive officer is required to adopt informal tender procedures, where tenders are invited through the press.
Most procurement of goods, services and consultancies falls under this category, but such tenders are rarely referred to the SPB, and the permanent secretary or chief executive officer has the final say.
Tenders above $300 000 are determined by the SPB.
The SPB was established to conduct procurement on behalf of procuring entities, where the procurement is of a class prescribed in procurement regulations; and to supervise procurement proceedings conducted by procuring entities in order to ensure proper compliance with the Act.
As the vice president in charge of economic ministries, which include that of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Emmerson Mnangagwa has been driving force behind Command Agriculture, which has been assisted by good rains received in the 2016/17 farming season to give Zanu PF political mileage.
For the first time in many years, the country was able to produce a bumper crop, hence the current push to expand the programme into wheat and cattle.
Mugabe revealed last week that while his deputy, Mnangagwa, had been the face behind Command Agriculture, the programme was actually a brainchild of his wife, Grace. Daily News