Govt systems porous: Veritas

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office later dismissed the notice saying it was not approved by the country’s highest office.

LEGAL think-tank Veritas says General Notice 635 of 2023 published last week banning disclosure of information about procurement of certain goods exposed holes in the processes involved before publishing of statutory instruments and government notices.

The notice published last week  under Section 3(vi) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act declared that procurement of  goods of national interest should not be publicly disclosed.

Part of the list was construction equipment and materials, biomedical and medical equipment, medicines, drugs (pharmaceuticals), vehicles — including ambulances — laboratory equipment, chemicals and accessories.

However, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office later dismissed the notice saying it was not approved by the country’s highest office.

In a report titled: Reversal of Procurement Secrecy Notice: How and Why Was it Published?, Veritas argues that the fact that General Notice 635 slipped undetected points to holes in the government systems.

“If these steps are followed; unauthorised or rogue instruments and notices should be detected and stopped before they are published in the Government Gazette. Obviously, the procedure has holes, because the rogue procurement notice allegedly slipped undetected into the Gazette,” the think-tank said.

“This is not the first time it has happened: there have been cases in the past when Statutory Instruments have had to be withdrawn because they were not authorised by the minister who was supposed to have made them.”

“The procedure could be tightened by taking a leaf out of Zambia’s rule book. In that country, the government printer does not accept draft instruments and notices for publication in the Gazette unless they are signed or initialled by the minister or other authority responsible for issuing them.

“If our Gazette editor were to insist on this, so that, in addition to soft copies of instruments and notices, he or she receives hard copies signed or initialled by the responsible minister and stamped and initialled by a law officer in the Attorney-General’s Office, it would be almost impossible for unauthorised instruments to get into the Gazette,” Veritas argued.

According to Veritas, on the first stage a ministry or department prepares a draft following internal procedures for getting authorisation from the minister or secretary.

The draft is then sent to the legislative drafters in the Attorney-General’s office, who vet it to ensure it is legally valid and correctly drafted.

Once the drafters are satisfied, they prepare a hard copy, stamp and return it to the originating ministry or department. The originating ministry or department then sends the stamped and initialled draft to Printflow, the government printer, for publication in the Government Gazette where the editor has instructions not to accept drafts for publication unless they have been stamped and initialled.

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