AllAfrica.com

By Tonateni Shidhudhu

October 3rd, 2013

Windhoek — The Public Procurement Bill that is currently being debated in the National Assembly is likely to be rejected, following strong criticism by several MPs on both sides of the house.

Debate resumed on Tuesday on the proposed law. Lawmakers are unhappy with the way the Bill was drafted, arguing that the role of government and that of new institutions to be created under the proposed law is not clear, and that the Bill has the potential to disadvantage businesses that are run by black Namibians. The debate was delayed last week, when lawmakers requested a workshop on the Bill to get a clear understanding of what the proposed legislation entails.

Swapo Party MP Kazenambo Kazenambo criticized the Bill calling on the Finance Minister

Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila to refer it back to the drafters. “I don’t see how the Ministry of Finance as an entity and other ministries are involved in the procurement system. I don’t understand the role of the Procurement Policy Office, there are so many offices and it is not clear who is supervising who, [since] the functions and powers of these offices are overlapping,” he said.

Kazenambo wants the finance minister to clarify the role of the institutions that are provided for in the Bill and how they differ from one another and also questioned the status of the Central Procurement Board and whether it is going to function as a parastatal or under which category of governance it would be placed.

If the Bill is passed, it will create a Central Procurement Board (CPB) to replace the current Tender Board that has had its fair share of controversy over the years. Kazenambo also queried why CPB members are given unlimited powers, especially that of extracting information about anyone bidding for a public tender, including their financial records. “I am seeing scandals coming, we live in this country as business [people], we are subjected to harassment and discrimination and sometimes just because you are black, people question from where you got the money,” he said. In terms of the Bill the Procurement Policy Office wil have the responsibility of advising the minister on policies, guidelines, standards and manuals required to maintain an internationally competitive public procurement system in Namibia. The office will also be responsible for recommending thresholds, disqualifying, debarring and suspending suppliers and conducting investigations where necessary.

This, according to Kazenambo, if not handled properly, has the potential to discriminate against locally manufactured products, especially those from businesses that are run by black Namibians. He made it clear that he is not in support of the current format of the Bill and walked out of parliament following his contribution, returning only later.

Swapo Party Chief Whip Professor Peter Katjavivi said while the Bill appears to be a tool of empowerment for disadvantaged communities, particularly women and young people, there are still issues that need to be clarified or rectified. He warned against the bureaucratic delays that may occur due to the various structures provided for under the proposed law. “The multiplicity of entities within the Bill creates a worry over bureaucratic delays. If you have the Procurement Policy Office, the Central Procurement Board, the Procurement Committee, the Procurement Management Units and Bid Evaluation Committee, probably we do not need the bid evaluation committees, because procurement committees can as well evaluate bids,” argued Katjavivi.

Lawmakers also feel that not enough public consultation took place with stakeholders to enable them to provide their inputs. Swanu president Usutuaije Maamberua said although a few meetings were held during the drafting of the Bill, there is a need for broader consultation. He was also dissatisfied that the Bill aims to provide preferential treatment to bidders from the previously disadvantaged communities only, saying 23 years after independence the nation should move on and look at the burning social question of poverty based on a broader perspective. He said it is a pity that there appears to be class discrimination in Namibia in terms of the manner in which the economy is structured, which also needs to be addressed in the Bill. “What about a poor white person, if they fall under the lower class? I am proposing that we should not only look at the previously disadvantaged communities, but all people in the lower income categories irrespective of colour.”

Maamberua who is the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts is also a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance. He questioned why the Bill is silent on the disposal of government assets, which is a function of the Tender Board. “The [proposed] Board (Central Procurement Board) does not have that function, which is a serious omission,” he observed and further pointed out that the Bill appears to be repealing only the current Tender Board Act 16 of 1996, but not other related Acts such as the Regional Councils Act, which also deals with public procurement.”

Presidential Affairs Minister Dr Albert Kawana adjourned the debate to next week Tuesday. Kawana is expected to offer guidance to parliament on the way forward on the contentious Bill. If the National Assembly is still divided, MPs will have to vote on whether to accept the Bill as it is or to reject it and to send it back to the finance ministry for amendment.