Zambia has joined the growing list of countries in Africa that are adopting electronic procurement systems in an effort to curb rampant corruption in bidding for public contracts, especially in the telecom and construction sectors,
Kenya was the first country in Africa to implement an automated, end-to-end procurement and payment system in an attempt to enhance transparency, accountability and fairness. The World Bank, a major funder of telecom and construction projects in Africa, is providing financial and technical support for e-procurement initiatives in several African countries including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mauritius, Cameroon, Uganda and now, Zambia.
Zambia and Kenya have recently been forced to cancel telecom tenders worth millions of dollar because of corruption in the manner in which senior government officials awarded contracts to suppliers. The central problem is that government officials take kickbacks from vendors to award contracts and inflate project costs.
Contracts for telecom projects in several other African countries including Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Algeria, have also been hit with allegations of corruption.
In Zambia, the Anti-Corruption Commission is still investigating telecom tenders that were allegedly improperly awarded to China-based ZTE and Star Software Technologies for, respectively, projects involving installation of anticrime closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras on the streets and a broadcast digital migration project.
Last year, the Kenyan government cancelled a school laptop project valued at more than US$200 million in the wake of corruption charges.
Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) Director General Chibelushi Musongole said the country's e-procurement system will reduce malpractice and improve efficiency in monitoring bids and contracts. Interested bidders, Musongole said, will be able to submit their offers from anywhere in the world through the ZPPA website. Bidders will have automated compliance validation during bid submissions.
The system will curb corruption because it will reduce face-to-face transactions and there will be anonymity of bidders until bids are opened, Musongole said.
"Government is spending money on overpriced goods and services because public entities have difficulty adhering to procurement plans. E-procurement will therefore be used by government and quasi-government institutions for all public procurement transactions in Zambia," Musongole said.
The World Bank has said that e-procurement has proved to be a cost-effective tool for bringing good governance to public-procurement processes.
"Most African countries are have now prioritized the strengthening of procurement systems because they are losing huge sums of money, resulting in the donor community also losing confidence in the governance system," said Edith Mwale, a telecom analyst at Africa center for ICT Development.