Saturday, March 6, 2021

“Failure” stalks SADC boss’ ride into the sunset

The word “failure” comes up four times in a single nine-line paragraph that seeks to make sense of SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax’s questionable procurement of Videoconferencing Equipment.

Following the outbreak of COVID -19, the Executive Secretary in a correspondence dated 6th March 2020, temporarily suspended all missions by SADC Secretariat and directed that all meetings be held via videoconference or teleconference.The following day, she directed the Deputy Executive Secretary, Corporate Affairs (DES- CA) to expeditiously facilitate the procurement of video conferencing equipment for the Council of Ministers meeting that was to be held from 16th to 18th March 2020. The initial meeting was planned to be physically held in the United Republic of Tanzania.A day later, on March 8th the SADC Secretariat obtained a quotation SO2020-1880  from Inventions Technologies Company Ltd of Tanzania for the supply and installation of video conferencing equipment in Dar es salaam, Tanzania, at cost of $234,270.12 value added tax (VAT) inclusive. The equipment was to be used in the Council of Ministers’ virtual meeting. On the face of it, it all looks like a straight forward above board deal.To the Audit Board however, the whole thing smelled fishy. Their comment on the procurement, complete with the generous use of the word “failure” comes across as an unflattering testimonial for Lawrence Tax whose term of office expires this year.

States the Audit Board report singed by Team Leader SADC Rinniah Situmbeko on the 29th January 2021: “Weaknesses were noted in procurement of video conferencing equipment. These included failures to consider possible viable alternatives of meeting the video conferencing needs, failure to undertake market survey, failure to define required equipment specifications, and failure to follow other steps stipulated in the Procurement Guidelines for Single Sourcing. This exposed SADC to additional costs such as costs of hosting equipment beyond the conference period and shipping costs to Botswana.”The SADC secretariats’ long list of failures assumes an even shadier hue against the background that Tax is from Tanzania and all procurement rules in the book were bended to ensure that two Tanzanian companies benefited exclusively from the lucrative single source appointments.According to the audit report, apart from engaging Inventions Technologies Company Ltd, SADC engaged another company Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL). Hardly a week after receiving the quotations, The SADC Secretariat on 13th October 2020, signed two contracts with TTCL, the first one being for the provision of internet and videoconferencing services while the second one was for provision of co-location services.

 It further emerged from the report that the Annual Consolidated Procurement Plan was unlawfully modified to include the procurement of video conferencing equipment. The SADC Procurement and Grants Guidelines require that Consolidated Procurement Plans should be reviewed by the tender committee.However, a scrutiny of the minutes of meetings of SADC Internal Tender Committee (SITC) held during the last quarter of the period under review revealed that the amendment was not presented for tender committee review.In the larger scheme of things, the cutting of corners in the Tanzanian tenders had nothing to do with the price of bread in SADC. It is Tax’s actual performance as Executive Secretary that may have SADC’s 345 million citizens crying over bread and butter for years to come.Commenting of Tax’s failure to implement a number of projects in her “IN” tray, the auditors this time elected to use the phrase, “non-achievement of targeted outcomes/outputs.” The board, however was under no illusion about the adverse and far-reaching implications of this “non-achievements.”States the report: “Overall SADC objectives of regional integration may not be achieved due to non-achievement of planned activities and programmes and the SADC Secretariat may be viewed as not having the capacity to implement such projects, affecting future funding assessment.”According to the audit report, the SADC Secretariat representing SADC member states had entered into several financial contribution agreements with International Co-operating Partners (ICPs) under which ICPs agreed to provide financing to SADC under various agreed projects implemented within SADC Secretariat’s business units.“

A review of the SADC-EU individual budget utilisation revealed that budget consumption was low across various projects or programmes. This translated in non-achievement of targeted outcomes/outputs. For the year under review, the Board of Auditors noted that the implementation of ICP funded projects / programmes had been undertaken slowly than expected. Activities planned for have not been fully achieved. As depicted by the budget consumption of twelve projects running under ICP financing agreements, five (5) projects obtained absorption capacity of below 30%; three (3) achieved less than 60% consumption and the remainder five (5) were below 85% budget absorption capacity. The low absorption rate resulted in huge funds earmarked for project activities during the financial year ended March 31, 2020 not being utilised.“The Board also noted that there was slow pace on the implementation of ICP funded projects/ programmes. As a result of slow pace and delayed implementation of ICPs projects, the initial agreed timeframes for project completion were not met as evidenced by new extension dates for the projects.

A review of the financial statements and analysis of the amounts received towards funding of various projects under contribution agreements, indicated a significant increase of unutilised funds. Contributions from ICPs increased by 19% from $15 773 744 (2017/2018) to $18 774 965 (2019/2020) however, the absorption rate was low and the amount deferred increased by 77% from $15 582 261 (2017/2018) to $27 636 112 (2019/2020). Low utilisation has translated to the low levels of achievement of targeted outcomes/outputs.“

Further, the Board noted that some projects’ remaining implementation duration is at two years inclusive of closure period casting doubt on the overall achievement of set objectives by the time these projects come to an end. A review of the breakdown of deferred amounts, indicated that the greater proportion of unutilised funds relate to five (5) projects with 2 years of remaining life which constituted a combined total of $18 542 246.35 deferred amounts representing 67% of $27 263 494.19 deferred revenue as at March 31, 2020. “Management was advised to undertake an assessment on the challenges impeding efficient implementation of projects and programmes and corrective measures taken on time.

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