Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
GOVERNMENT has moved in to eliminate procurement bottlenecks that delay key infrastructure development and ensure speedy implementation of projects under the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP).
Local authorities have also been directed to iron out sticking issues and upscale on-going construction works that are financed by public funds.
President Mnangagwa launched the ERRP initiative last year in response to the urgent need to rehabilitate roads that were damaged by the rains in the 2020/21 rainy season.
While commendable progress has been recorded in different parts of the country, the exercise suffered delays in several aspects due to procurement bottlenecks that frustrated contractors.
Local authorities such as Bulawayo City Council, for instance, lost $625 million, which was earmarked for road rehabilitation works as the council failed to utilise the disbursed funds on time.
Yesterday, the Government, through the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) held a ‘no-holds barred’ closed-door meeting in Bulawayo with senior council officials drawn from Matabeleland region to address some of the perennial barriers to smooth procurement.
Bulawayo Town Clerk, Mr Christopher Dube, led the city’s team consisting of road engineers as well as the procurement head.
Officials from Bubi, Umguza, Hwange, Kusile and Binga Rural District councils, among others, also participated in the meeting and were afforded the opportunity to express their concerns.
The meeting follows an earlier visit by the permanent secretary responsible for the District Development Fund in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Mr Christopher Shumba, who toured Bulawayo and Matabeleland North last week to assess progress in road projects.
PRAZ chief executive officer, Mr Clever Ruswa, who accompanied Mr Shumba, said yesterday’s meeting at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex was meant to address the problems that caused some national projects to lag behind.
“When we had the roads declared a state of emergency, we wrote a circular where we were guiding them (councils) to work with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development,” he said in an interview.
Mr Ruswa admitted that initially, there was a discord in terms of the reporting structures.
“That is why we are having accounting officers in this meeting because we want to harmonise all those issues because they need to follow the instructions that we gave as guidance to procuring entities so that they speed up some of these issues,” he said.
Mr Ruswa said as the country enters the second phase of ERRP programme, pitfalls that stalled the project in the first phase should be avoided at all costs.
“So, to me we need to speak to procurement issues, because initially when they were engaging the contractors, they would then say other procurement issues were delaying them,” he said.
“Yet we have given very clear and concise instructions and we are here and its Phase 2 and we don’t want to continue to talk about issues of delays because people say there is PRAZ and also procurement oversight committee,” said Mr Ruswa.
He said the ERRP 2 procurement process should follow that of other emergencies and national disasters as was done with Cyclone Idai and Covid-19.
In that regard, PRAZ will be closely following up on some of the contracts to ensure that the state does not lose to poorly executed jobs.
“We want them to report on how they are going to tackle that. Are they going to just pay them, are they going to make good of that, what will happen to that substandard work?” said Mr Ruswa.
“This is what is going to be part of the discussions, that is why we want engineers, procurement officers and the accounting officers because we don’t want excuses because we want to take those contractors to task.
“If ever we feel that there was a shoddy job in the procurement entity and the whole of Government is being shortchanged.”
Council officials who attended the meeting said the gathering was important as it clarified sticking issues and capacitated them to effectively supervise ERRP projects.
Bubi Rural District Council chief executive officer, Dr Patson Mlilo, said the meeting cleared a lot of issues as far procurement matters are concerned.
Going forward, he said, the public should expect improvement in the implementation of road rehabilitation projects.
“I think if you are talking to the highest man who speaks authoritatively, it clears a lot of things.
We were facing a challenge, everyone’s approach on procurement issues is shrouded with fear,” he said.
“When you are dealing with procurement you are afraid of being accused of being corrupt.
So, they were clear that when they write a circular stating that they have relaxed, the same circular is sent to anti-corruption bodies and it clears us from being accused of being corrupt.
It was a fruitful engagement,” said Dr Mlilo.
Another official said previously, there were some gaps in the implementation where issues that were purely administrative or procurement in nature, engineers would not comprehend.
“There were some circulars from PRAZ, which in some cases were not received or if received were not correctly interpreted so as to deal with the emergency programme like ERRP 2,” said the official.
“Most procurement authorities continued to be stuck on routine procurement procedures instead of being guided by the circulars from the regulatory authority in dealing with procurement procedures on an emergency basis.
“So, all procedures and processes have been clarified and going forward procurement for the programme will have no bottlenecks.”