Public entities still evading open contracting arrangements

Majority of the state-funded entities continue shunning open procurement arrangements despite the government putting in place progressive legal framework to support open contracting agenda.

The development has baffled Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), which has been pushing for the entrenchment of open contracting to achieve increased efficiency, transparency, competitiveness and value for money in the procurement of resources meant for public projects.

CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa expressed his frustration during a stakeholders’ feedback and engagement meeting, which was held in Lilongwe on Thursday.

Kaiyatsa–We have very good laws in place, but awareness among public officials is a challenge–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

The human rights watchdog organized the meeting in partnership with Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a Uganda-based largest membership pan-African civil society organization and resource centre that promotes citizens right of access to information (ATI) in Africa.

Kaiyatsa observed that although Malawi has formulated and passed progressive legal framework and laws to support open contracting agenda, most of the public entities continue to shun the system.

“We have progressive laws such as the PPDA Act, which are supporting the open contracting agenda. We also have institutions that have been built on those laws such as the PPDA Authority, which is there to oversee the implementation of Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act,” he said.

He added, “The public procurement system has some progress that has been made. However, we identified a number of gaps. For example, the law states that procurement entities must publish information on the PPDA portal. But if you look at the portal, you see that there are some procurement entities that are not publishing their information.”

Kaiyatsa also observed that most of the information posted on the portal is not compliant with the law, stressing that the officials deliberately hide some information.

“For example, the issue of beneficial ownership; you will find that that information is not provided. Companies are listed there as being awarded contracts. But there is no information on who owns them, which also creates a risk that some companies may be bidding documents under one person, which is against fair business practices.

“We also noted that there is still lack of awareness among public officials. Yes, we have very good laws in place, but you will find that awareness among public officials is a challenge. We still have officials that are still not conversant with the PPDA Act, for example!

“We also have officials that are not compliant with the Access to Information Act as evidenced by the tendency to withhold information where it is needed,” he narrated.

Guest of Honour at the event, District Commissioner (DC) for Lilongwe, Dr. Lawford Palani, admitted that “a significant amount of public money and other resources have been lost due to fraud and corruption [in councils] and this has negatively impacted service delivery in various sectors of public service.”

Palani bemoaned that this tendency, which has been “largely normalized in our society today” is not healthy or sustainable for a district or a country at large.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that public services are benefitting the intended beneficiaries today and in future. They say if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” he said.

The meeting attracted players in the civil society, media and government.

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