Clerk Of Parly Chokuda Released On $100k Bail Over ‘Laptopgate’ Scandal

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The blocked attempt by Parliament last year to buy large batches of grossly overpriced laptop and desktop computers has now seen Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda and Parliament’s director procurement Stanely Bhebhe formally charged with two counts of criminal abuse of duty as public officers.

The pair were yesterday released on bail of $100 000 each when they appeared at the Harare Magistrates Court with the abuse of duty tied to alleged violations of procurement regulations when they wanted to buy 173 laptops and 79 desktops on behalf of the Parliament of Zimbabwe.

The two were not asked to plead to the two charges when they appeared before Harare regional magistrate Mrs Vongai Guwuriro, who remanded them to May 31. The first charge deals with the 79 desktops and illegal attempts to change the prices offered by the bidder, and the second with the 173 laptops, the illegal specification of brand, and the price reduction negotiations with the other bidder.

Once the Treasury had blocked payment on the grounds that the two successful tenderers had not offered value for money, the Parliamentary administration should have simply cancelled the tender awards and flighted a new tender, this time with all required declarations and no specification of brand.

The State led by Mr Lancelot Mutsokoti alleges that on June 17 last year, the Parliament of Zimbabwe flighted an advert inviting interested bidders for the supply and delivery of the 173 laptops and 79 desktops for Tender POZ/DOM/013/2022, which closed on July 15.

Initially 92 companies showed interest, but were later reduced to 30 after some were disqualified for a range of reasons.

On August 19 Mid-End Computers was notified by the Parliament of Zimbabwe that it had been awarded the contract for the supply and deliver 79 desktops at US$3 076 each with a total value of US$243 052,59 payable at interbank rate on the date of payment.

The Treasury, as part of its then recently introduced stringent policy of seeking value for money, refused to release the payment citing exorbitant prices, which had also caused an outcry from legislators and members of the public. Although the prices were quoted in US dollars, those US dollar prices were considered well above the US dollar prices for similar imported equipment.

On September 16 Bhebhe, as the director procurement, wrote a letter on the instructions of Chokuda to Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) asking for authority to negotiate price reductions.

Bhebhe instructed Rudo Doka, the director of external relations, to append her signature on behalf of Chokuda saying that they were working on the instructions from Chokuda, who was in Bulawayo for a workshop.

PRAZ in its response advised the Parliamentary administration that negotiating price reduction was contrary to Section 52 of the Procurement Act which prohibits negotiations between procuring entities and bidders.

It is alleged that when the Chokuda and Bhebhe asked for authority from PRAZ for price reduction on September 16, they had already negotiated for price reduction with Noah Sakudye the Director of Mid-End Computers on September 7.The court heard that an agreement was reached and price was reduced from US$243 000 to US$180 000 for the supply and delivery of the 79 desktops. According to the State, the meeting was chaired by the chief director finance Bernard Zvamada.

Again, it is alleged that the standard bidding document issued to bidders had no signed declaration by Chokuda who is the accounting officer to the effect that the procurement was based on neutral and fair technical requirements, violating section 20 (2) (c) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (General) Regulations in the process.

It is further alleged that Chokuda and Bhebhe on page 16-17 of the standard bidding document specified that they required HP brand laptops on Lot 1 in violation of Section 27(2) of the same regulations, which bans specification of brands. The State alleges that by negotiating price reduction, issuing an unsigned standard bidding document to bidders and specifying the brand of laptops required, the two acted contrary and inconsistent with their duties as public officers. Section 52 provides measures which should have been taken by the accounting officer, in this case where the price of the lowest evaluated responsive bidder exceeded the budget.

Chokuda should have simply cancelled the contract and then proceeded with a re-tender but he went on to negotiate price reduction showing favour to winning bidders and disfavour to other bidders, it is alleged.

The second count deals with the 173 laptops. Blinart Investments Pvt Ltd was notified by the Parliament of Zimbabwe that it had been awarded a contract for the supply and delivery of 173 laptops at USD$9 264.49 each with a total value of US$1 602 755,77 payable at interbank rate. Again the Treasury refused to release the payment sighting high prices, which caused an outcry from legislators and members of the public.

Again on September 16, the same date he asked for authority to renegotiate the desktop prices, Bhebhe allegedly originated a letter on the instructions of Chokuda to PRAZ asking for authority to negotiate price reduction. He received the same reply that this was illegal.

But again they had already negotiated for a price reduction from the chosen supplier, this time with Elizabeth Muchenje the Director of Blinart Investments Pvt Ltd on September 6, 2022. An agreement was reached on the same day and the unit price was reduced from US$9 264.49 to US$7 985.69, according to the State.

That meeting was allegedly also chaired by chief director finance Zvamada on the instruction of Chokuda.

The same problems with the standard bidding document missing the normal declaration of neutrality and the laptop brand are part of this second laptop charge. *Herald*

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