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PPDA’s troubles

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THIPA—Staff receive various enquiries
“I get all sorts of enquiries, calls, demands, ill-conceived ‘instructions’, even threats regarding some of the issues being handled by the PPDA. These come from all manner of people – interest groups, NGOs, senior politicians, senior government officers, suppliers and some ‘hired guns’.” – John Suzi Banda, PPDA Board Chairperson

By Deogratias Mmana:

The Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) has admitted receiving pressure from all sorts of quarters, including senior politicians, in the decisions it makes on public tenders.

And its Board Chairperson, John Suzi Banda, has challenged staff at the public procurements body to stand up to the pressure and always do what is right.

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This is revealed in a recently leaked communication from Suzi Banda addressed to the Authority’s Director General, Eddington Chilapondwa and other staff members, in which he is expressing concern over the leakages of communication from the Authority.

In the communication, Suzi Banda is also advising the management to stop giving justifications for decisions made by the organisation.

His leaked communication is about a meeting the institution had in Salima where it was supposed to make a decision whether to approve an application or seek further clarification from an applying entity.

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“Now, there’s a difference between going back to the applying PDE [Procuring and Disposing Entities] and stating that the Board wants this or that clarified and saying ‘The chairman was angry with your application!’ Surely! C’mon!” Reads the communication.

Banda further says: “But allow me to say this, as Chairman of the Board, I get all sorts of enquiries, calls, demands, ill-conceived ‘instructions’, even threats regarding some of the issues being handled by the PPDA. These come from all manner of people – interest groups, NGOs, senior politicians, senior government officers, suppliers and some ‘hired guns’.

“I have shared with some of you these challenges. It has always been my modus operandi to ensure total professional independence of everyone involved in the approval process (which seems to be the one area of most interest to many) – this is from the analysing desk officers, their immediate supervisors, the DG and each and every member of the Board,” the communication reads

Banda asks the staff at PPDA to exercise professionalism in their work and not to allow to bend towards some interested quarters.

“As I have said before, this professional independence and open and transparent debate deepens our engagement of issues before us and enriches the quality of our decisions.

“However, this is only possible if everyone engages on issues without fearing that their personal position on an issue shall leak out. It’s just not the right way to manage ourselves,” Banda says.

Banda advises the members of the executive not to feel duty bound to explain to anyone of the decisions made by PPDA.

“Irrespective of the constant pressures from all manner of people, some of us have taken the default position that either ‘the Secretariat will analyse and give us their view’ or ‘that the Board shall discuss and revert with its position’ and, of course, ‘I stand by the analysis given’. When such a decision is made, it is then up to me, as the leader, to explain to those that are entitled to any explanation.

“This is probably the worst and perhaps the most risky part of my ‘job description’. But I suppose it comes with the territory. There’s, therefore, no reason that any member of the Executive should feel pressured to explain anything to anyone,” Banda advises.

“In short, let’s de-risk the approval process from foreign contamination (either from political pressures, financial interests or whosoever) by refusing to draw a sharp focus on anyone by singling them out for their position on an issue. Don’t feel pressured to do this. I too deal with those pressures every day! It’s simply the nature of the beast!” Adds Banda.

And putting matters on record, he challenges the management that the leakage came from the Secretariat.

PPDA confirmed the leakage and said the Authority had moved on.

In a questionnaire response, PPDA spokesperson Grace Thipa said that it was unfortunate that a complaint about a leak would itself leak.

She said there was nothing abnormal with the board chairperson reminding PPDA staff about the importance of confidentiality “especially in a pressure cooker institution where we are”.

Thipa said the PPDA chairperson and other staff receive various enquries and requests from various people, suppliers, public officers, politicians, ministries, departments and agencies, media and the general public.

“There is always the need to ensure that our processes should be shielded from external influence even as we respond to these queries and requests,” Thipa said.

She said the management and the entire Authority had moved on “from this unfortunate instance.”

“We have all taken comfort, indeed, in the rarity of the leak. As you know, other institutions may not be as lucky as we have been,” Thipa said.

Banda was not available for a comment.

Master Jumbe, Executive Director of the Church and Society for Blantyre CCAP Synod, said the admission by the chairperson that there is political pressure shows that some of the people appointed into statutory corporation boards are there to advance the political agenda of the government in power.

Jumbe however commended Banda for trying to steer PPDA to the professional route although there are some bad apples in the system.

“The leakage of confidential information is unfortunate and should be condemned in the strongest terms. People should learn to be professional by adhering to the rules that govern their work ethics.

“However, the admission by the chairperson of the PPDA that he is receiving pressure from different people including politicians is a proof that people chosen in our parastatal boards are put there with an aim of furthering political agendas and not to serve Malawians. This is why most of these boards are failing to perform,” Jumbe said.

And he added: “It is commendable to see in the leakage that the chair is geared towards restoring professionalism and morality in the Board despite that there are still bad apples in that particular board.”

PPDA is mandated by the Public Procurement Act to regulate, monitor and oversee public procurement and disposal of public assets in Malawi.

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