The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) has been given powers to investigate and bring to book organizations that break procurement procedures.
Amendments to the PPDA Act became effective this month. They take the authority from being a “toothless barking dog” to one that can act in instances where fraud is suspected. Before the amendments were made, PPDA could suspend a bidder under the recommendation of the government agency that is issuing the tender.
According to Cornelius Sabiiti, the Executive Director PPDA, government entities have been protecting some of the firms that are involved in the fraudulent acquisition of contracts.
Section 5 of the PPDA Act describes the powers of the authority. The authority, according to the Act, can request information on the bidding process from a government entity, summon and examine witnesses, investigate and suspend a firm and also for criminal charges to be brought against those who collude to commit such an offense.
Under Section 94, the Authority may on the recommendation of a procuring and disposing entity or after investigations on its own initiative, suspend a provider from engaging in any public procurement or disposal process for a period determined by the Authority.
The annual Auditor General’s report always has detail after detail of how collusion exists in the awarding of contracts. Additionally, even when value-for-money audits are carried out, there is poor work done on roads and school construction. The officials are seen defending themselves or offering apologies when they appear in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. In most of these cases, the PPDA would have raised the red flag on awarding the contracts, but the government entity chooses to ignore those recommendations. The amendments in the Act call for government agencies to act upon the recommendations given to them by PPDA, Sabiiti explains.
The act prescribes a jail sentence of five years and a minimum fine of 5 million Uganda Shillings upon conviction for accounting officers who collude with a firm and award a contract by fraudulent means.
Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka says the new amendments will make the procurement process more transparent and revive the confidence of the public regarding the award of contracts.
The act however falls short of making a contract null and void, if it is discovered that it was acquired through fraudulent means. The government entity, which awarded the contract on the other hand, can sue the firm to avoid being in breach of an existing contract. It also prescribes the establishment of a tribunal to deal with the day to day rumblings of awarding of contracts, before a court of law is used to remedy the situation.