‘PPDA used as scapegoat for incompetence’

‘PPDA used as scapegoat for incompetence’

The Parliamentary Cluster Committee on Public Appointments and Commissions and Statutory Corporations has told ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to stop blaming the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) for delays in implementing their projects.

The sentiments come against a background of financially-struggling local councils that are set to lose about K25 billion in performance-based grants under Governance to Enable Service Delivery (Gesd) because they failed to fully utilise their allocated resources.

Over the years most public entities have accused PPDA of delaying their projects due to alleged bottlenecks during procurement approval processes.

But the cluster committee says it has established that PPDA is unfairly accused of inefficiencies created by the procuring entities themselves.

In its recent meeting with the authority to discuss its expenditure for the financial year 2023/2024 and the 2024/2025 budget, the cluster noted that PPDA did not have financial challenges yet it was blamed for delaying procurements in government.

Argues PPDA is not to
blame: Chitsulo

The cluster committee raised the issue after several controlling officers attributed their inability to utilise their budgets in full to delays occasioned by the PPDA in the process.

Under the grants, the councils were receiving $25 million (about K42 billion) but Gesd revised downwards its allocation to about $10 million (about K17 billion) from this year. The National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) and the Ministry of Local Government, National Unity and Culture indicated  that this was due to local authorities’ delay in utilisation and completion of projects.

The cluster committee’s co-chairperson Joyce Chitsulo argued in an interview last week that PPDA was not to blame for the projects’ delays.

According to Chitsulo, the authority presented a litany of projects for roads and bridges to the committee whose ‘No Objections’ were already granted. However, several months later, the projects are yet to begin and the responsible institutions still blamed PPDA for their delays.

She explained that the cluster also learnt that procuring and disposing entities (PDEs) are categorised with certain thresholds not requiring PPDA’s approval.

For instance, procuring and disposing entities for central and local government are listed in A and B categories.

Those exempted under A are goods worth K1 billion, works of up to K2.5 billion, routine and consultancy services of up to K750 million while under B are goods of K1 billion, works of K2 billion, routine and consultancy services for K500 million apiece.

Meanwhile, Chitsulo said the cluster has undertaken to meet some of the institutions that blamed PPDA for their project delays.

PPDA public relations and communications manager Kate Kujaliwa said in an interview that the authority has tremendously improved on processing of PDE requests for ‘No Objection’ due to the introduction of the e-service system which facilitates working from anywhere.

Ministry of Local Government, National Unity and Culture spokesperson Anjoya Mwanza referred Weekend Nation to the councils when asked to react to the development.

But in separate interviews, Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) and Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) differed with the cluster’s observation, arguing that PPDA was to blame because councils have little say in procurement processes.

Malga managers network chairperson Rodney Simwaka said it was unfortunate that controlling officers are being engaged in the blame-game.

“For those of us on the ground we have seen and experienced the delays on securing ‘no objections’ from the PPDA. How do you explain an approval that is given seven or eight months after submission,” queried Simwaka, who chairs the grouping of district commissioners and local councils’ chief executive officers.

He said the issue was not only about the thresholds but also contract adjustment in which they are required to seek a ‘No Objection’ if the upward adjustment is beyond 15 percent.

“This means in these days of price instability even those projects whose contract values fall below the threshold will at one point require a ‘No Objection’ from PPDA when upward contract value adjustments become necessary,” said Simwaka.

On his part, Csat executive director Willy Kambwandira said PPDA may truly be unfairly blamed, “but the whole process remains prohibitive because of the many layers of procurement vetting stages put in place largely for personal gains”.

“PPDA may grant a no objection in good time but sometimes the process drags at the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] or Government Contracting Unit [GCU] and by the time it is approved 10 months have elapsed.

“These red tapes need to be re-examined if implementation of public projects is to progress otherwise they [red tapes] only benefit certain individuals.”

Speaking after meeting Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs last year to discuss its 2021 annual report, ACB lamented that government officials sometimes force the anti-graft body to fast-track vetting of public contracts, which compromises the screening process.

ACB director of corruption prevention Mary Phombeya said the bureau is sometimes forced to vet the contracts within two days when its guidelines prescribe five working days.

Section 37 of the PPDA Act mandates ACB to vet single source method of procurement or any high value procurement pursuant to the powers conferred on the bureau under Section 10 of the Corrupt Practices Act.

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