In recent years, Zimbabwe has been plagued with numerous instances of opaque procurement processes, and it appears that the trend continues. A recent notice published in the government gazette prohibiting disclosure of information regarding the government’s procurement of medicines, equipment, and materials for the country’s health institutions, has sparked outrage among the public, with many fearing that it would be used to hide corruption. The incident has further highlighted the lack of transparency in Zimbabwe’s procurement deals, which has been evident in previous cases, such as the Wicknell Chivayo Deal for Gwanda solar power plant and the Drax procurement deal.

On the 10th of May, Veritas, a non-governmental organization, commented on the notice in the Economic Governance Watch 2/2023, stating that it was ultra vires and contrary to the spirit of the law. Newspapers quickly picked up on the controversy and called it a “looting notice.” The Secretary for Information defended the notice, stating that its purpose was to disentangle purchases of emergency medical supplies or critical equipment repairs from the long-drawn procurement process. However, the government has since withdrawn the notice, stating that it had been published without authorization and without the signature of the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet.

While the notice has been withdrawn, it cannot be simply disregarded, as until it is formally repealed by another gazetted Notice or set aside by a court, it remains the law. Moreover, several questions remain unanswered, such as how the notice was published without the President’s knowledge, how the publication of unauthorized notices can be prevented in the future, and who was the author of the notice and what they were trying to achieve.

The incident has highlighted the need for transparency in Zimbabwe’s procurement processes. There is a long-standing procedure for publishing statutory instruments and notices in the Gazette, which involves a draft being prepared by the relevant Ministry or Department, followed by vetting by the legislative drafters in the Attorney-General’s Office, who ensure that it is legally valid and correctly drafted. Once the draft is deemed valid, it is stamped and initialled, and a hard copy is sent to Printflow, the Government Printer, for publication in the Gazette. The Gazette editor has instructions not to accept drafts for publication unless they have been stamped and initialled.

However, the procedure has holes, as evidenced by the rogue procurement notice allegedly slipping undetected into the Gazette. This is not the first time that unauthorized notices have been published, and there have been cases in the past when statutory instruments have had to be withdrawn because they were not authorized by the Minister who was supposed to have made them.

To improve the procedure, Zimbabwe could take a leaf out of Zambia’s rule book, where the Government Printer does not accept draft instruments and notices for publication in the Gazette unless they are signed or initialled by the Minister or other authority responsible for issuing them. If Zimbabwe’s Gazette editor were to insist on this, so that they receive hard copies signed or initialled by the responsible Minister and stamped and initialled by a law officer in the Attorney-General’s Office, it would be almost impossible for unauthorized instruments to get into the Gazette.

One rather troubling question remains, however: what was the author of the rogue notice trying to achieve? The Secretary for Information explanation that the purpose of the notice was to avoid long-drawn-out procurement processes for purchases of emergency medical supplies and equipment does not hold water. The notice does not circumvent or shorten the procurement procedures laid down in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act; it merely prohibits public disclosure of them. Furthermore, the Act itself, in section 3(7), gives the Procurement Regulatory Authority power, for good cause shown, to exempt any procuring entity from the need to comply with any provision of