Is public sector procurement adequately defined?

The supreme law governing public procurement is the State Procurement Board Act (SPB) (Chapter 22: 14) and its subsidiary regulation, the Procurement Regulation 2002 (SI 171/2002). The law was enacted to regulate public sector procurement and protect public funds.

The jurisdiction of the law is the public sector. It has an obligation to protect public funds spent through procurement. What’s the girth of this law as prescribed in the Act?

The Act defines the breadth of public sector as the ministries, departments or other divisions of the government, or statutory bodies, or local authorities.

The SPB is expected to supervise procurement on behalf of procurement entities with power to investigate and take action pertinent thereof.

This is critical to ensure issues of fairness, accountability, competitiveness and transparency are enshrined in public sector procurement.

You will notice, however, that local Authority procurement is operating outside the ambit of the SPB. The Urban Councils Act (UCA) (Chapter 29: 15) gives control of procurement decisions to the Executive through the procurement board of the council raising corporate governance issues where the board in the capacity of shareholders, are directly involved in operational issues.

The provision of UCA creates a policy gap in public sector procurement. The supreme law, the SPB Act, places local authorities under the influence of the SPB, but the UCA makes no reference to the SPB Act.

The agenda Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo brought to Parliament may be influenced by the fact that SPB Act provides independence of procurement decision-making process in the public sector contrary to the UCA that violates corporate governance provisions, and worse, allows the minister to override council decisions that he considers are against the interest of the public.

My previous articles emphasised that procurement is technical and requires cadres that have relevant skills and training.

Councillors, according to UCA, have a mandate to make procurement decisions, and (section) 4A also stipulates the qualification of a councillor as a mere voter registered in a particular ward.

There are no professional criteria for one to be voted a councillor or appointment of special interest councillors appointed by the minister.

A skills gap is thus created explaining why there are numerous misprocurement reports of late.

The Zimbabwe public sector procurement definition also left out the Ministry of Education, Arts, Sports and Culture school development associations (SDA) — managed procurement.

Parents are religiously paying school SDA fees every term, yet on the other hand, the SDAs are ever seeking to review upwards these fees even if input costs are constant. A grey area where the public funds are spent with inadequate supervision and control exists.
InvestorWords.com defines the public sector as that

part of the economy concerned with providing basic government services. Such services include healthcare and education qualifying SDA to be public sector, benefiting the society and not just the user of the service and also providing equal opportunity.

In that context, schools, whether private, mission or government, would need to fall under public service.

The funds used to run the schools are public funds solicited from parents and therefore require subsequent procurement to be in sync with public procurement systems.

By advocating for regulated procurement for all public funds, one should not mistake this as advocacy for bureaucratic processes as characterised by the state of our current public procurement systems.

The call is for effective and transparent systems that will ensure efficient utilisation of public funds.

Nyasha Chizu is a fellow of CIPS and the current branch chairman of CIPS Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity.

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