Take Parly Clerk to task over laptops scandal

Kennedy Chokuda

SINCE the days of the late former President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans have been conditioned to read about corruption scandals by those in power without batting an eyelid. Grand corruption has long been endemic in the country.

The latest scandal out of Parliament, however, makes for grim reading, even for those used to seeing or hearing no evil.

Parliament awarded a tender respectively to Blinart Investments P/L and Mid-End Computers and Hardware for the supply of 173 laptops valued at US$9 200 each and 79 desktop computers priced above US$3 000 each.

After days of public outcry, Parliament finally succumbed to public pressure and admitted that the prices of the laptops and desktop computers were abnormal and cancelled the tender.

Why did things have to get this far for the accounting officer, the Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda to actually notice that the prices being quoted for the gadgets were ridiculous to say the least.

There are many questions for Chokuda to answer.

Leaked communications show that he had not only authorised the questionable deal, but seemed happy with the processes leading to the awarding of the tender.

“I take this chance to appreciate your effort for supply and ensure delivery of 173 laptops and 79 all-in-one desktops. The evaluation committee was impressed by your documentation and how you presented your bid,” he wrote to Blinart on August 29, 2022.

This was obvious thievery to anyone with basic knowledge of information and communications technology equipment. Procurement and the processes involved have long been seen as a feeding trough for the connected who do not feel the need to be accountable if they are providing a public and basic need.

Chokuda later issued a statement blaming Parliament staffers for the “corrupt deal”, but did not say what measures would be taken against the alleged culprits.

He could not, because it was clear who had authored the stinking deal.

He later wrote: “While all the procurement processes had been adhered to and cognisant of the need to exercise prudence and probity in all procurement processes, our due diligence processes indicated that the prices were highly inflated.

“I, as the accounting officer, directed the Parliament’s director of procurement unit in the presence of the director audit, to initiate cancellation of the tender and to proceed with retendering as the prices quoted were not justified.”

Chokuda may want to claim credit for finally acting with prudence, the rest of us only became aware of the questionable deal when Finance secretary George Guvamatanga raised alarm over the tender, which Chokuda had approved and submitted for processing and directed that it be cancelled and the suppliers blacklisted for extortionist pricing.

The Clerk of Parliament, as he eloquently put it, is the accounting officer, and evidence not only shows that he was aware of the highly-inflated prices on the tenders, but had approved of them.

His explanation to the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) that he wasn’t aware of the prices until September 9 do not hold water and show a man trying to escape accountability.

When such grand corruption takes place in public institutions in full glare, with little regard to the masses who bear the cost, claims by the procurement director Stanley Bhebe before the Pac yesterday make a mockery of the so-called standards of transparency and honesty.

“The processes are beyond reproach and are watertight. There is fairness and also honesty,” Bhebhe said.

Some legislators were livid at the attempts to whitewash the attempted grand theft procurement.

Chokuda and his senior officials have some explaining to do.

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