Hivos Southern Africa recently held a high level meeting on Transparency and Accountability in Public Procurement Policies and Practices in Zimbabwe. The meeting brought together key stakeholders working on public procurement, open contracting and transparency and accountability to discuss how citizens can have equal and inclusive access to public goods and services as well as meaningfully engage in public resource allocation and policy decisions.
The meeting was held as part of the Civic Engagement for Open Contracting (OC) (CEfOCP), a five – year programme which Hivos is implementing in partnership with Article 19, International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. Following the key successes of open contracting in Malawi, Hivos Southern Africa is seeking to expand some aspects of the programme to Zimbabwe.
Public procurement has become topical in recent times in Zimbabwe. Efforts to reform public procurement systems are being conducted as part of a major anti-corruption drive. In March 2019, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ). A new anti-corruption commission was sworn in July 2019 with more powers to fight corruption. The anti-corruption drive has resulted in high profile arrests of some senior government officials. These government efforts provide an opportunity to incorporate open contracting in the country.
Stakeholders that attended the meeting included the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), the public and private sector, funding partners, civil society organisations, parliament representatives and embassies including the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who are also funding the Hivos Open Contracting programme.
In her opening remarks, Hivos Regional Director for Southern Africa, Tanja Lubbers said, “With these latest developments, as Hivos we feel that key ingredients now exist to allow for an expansion of transparency and accountability portfolio in Zimbabwe by way of incorporating Open Contracting in the country. Open contracting is about making the entire contracting process more open and transparent, from the planning phase, to tendering, averaging and to implementation.”
Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) Commissioner Thandiwe Mhlobane said that the commission is willing to work with Hivos in the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe.
“We definitely welcome your interaction and participation in which ever method or approach you want to help. We are prepared to partner with you because we believe a corruption free procurement process will reduce poverty and change the economic wellbeing of the country,” said Mhlobane.
Open contracting has become a topical issue and has gained prime importance across the continent and globally as it aims to fight corruption, improve service delivery and enhance market efficiency by enabling public contract data to be easily accessed and compared across countries and regions. Globally, governments spend an estimated US$9.5 trillion each year through contracts with private companies, but how, when and where this money is spent is often not publicly available.
Her Excellency, Ambassador Barbara van Hellemond, Netherlands Ambassador to Zimbabwe said the scale of a type of systematic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making process to their own advantage should not be underestimated.
“Collaboration between government, business and citizens is vital and precious to achieve greater transparency and accountability. Involving government will be a major challenge in Zimbabwe. I do see some positive developments towards more commitment from the government in this respect, the newly appointed anti-corruption commission, legislative development technical assistance from the World Bank in for example the development of the e-governance strategy,” said van Hellemond.
In 2016, Hivos and Article 19 kicked off this programme by working with the Open Contracting Partnership to conduct scoping studies with local researchers in 15 countries. In all countries surveyed, it was easy to identify organizations who are eager to use contracting information to monitor procurement and improve public governance, even when the data are difficult to come by. In almost every country, there were at least a handful of relevant groups who have the potential to use procurement data. Collectively, this adds up to a sizeable international community of informediaries who could become future open contracting champions.
At the meeting, lessons from Kenya, Nigeria and Malawi were shared by Hope Muli, Hivos Africa Regional Project Manager, Open Contracting; David Opoku, Community & Capacity Building Manager at Open Contracting Partnership and June Kambalametore, Hivos Project Manager for Open Contracting in Malawi.
“In Malawi, one key lesson is that informediaries have limited capacity. There is a weak infomediary base that has little understanding of how to monitor public spending, a low awareness of open contracting, and limited capacity to monitor public procurement. They also lack the skills and tools to use for citizen engagement on open contracting,” said Kambamaletore. “As part of this project, Hivos is working to build capacity of informediaries” she added.
In addition to the lessons learned, there was a presentation and validation of two draft reports conducted on behalf of Hivos by Institute for Development of Freedom of Information. The two brief reports, (1) Zimbabwe Public Procurement Legislation Assessment and (2) Recommendations for the Public Procurement Systems of Zimbabwe, were shared and discussed at the meeting. The reports will be finalised and shared online.
From this meeting and the planned implementation of the open contracting programme implementation in Zimbabwe, Hivos will engage duty bearers including the PRAZ, ZACC and the Parliament of Zimbabwe as well as rights holders including civil society and funding partners interested in issues of transparency and accountability. The aim is to ensure that ordinary Zimbabwean citizens have equal and inclusive access to public goods and services and can meaningfully engage in public resource allocation and policy decisions.