SENIOR STAFF WRITER
THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has opened an investigation into deputy Health minister John Mangwiro, pictured, over allegations that he arm-twisted the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm) to award a US$5,6 million Covid-19 tender to an unregistered company.
Zacc deputy chairperson Kuziva Murapa confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that they were probing Mangwiro as part of wider investigations into the procurement of Zimbabwe’s coronavirus supplies.
It is alleged that Mangwiro held a meeting with Natpharm’s tender adjudication team one evening, before allegedly ordering them to issue a supply order the same night for Covid-19 consumables to a firm called Young Health Care Limited.
The company was initially said not to have been registered with the Procurement Regulatory of Zimbabwe (Praz) — which allegedly saw Mangwiro causing the postponement of the tender to allow the firm to be registered.
This comes a few months after former Health minister Obadiah Moyo was sacked by President Emmerson Mnangagwa following his arrest for allegedly awarding a US$60 million tender to Drax International, for the supply of coronavirus drugs and personal protective equipment.
“The investigation of Covid-19 equipment procurement is wide ranging. We are not targeting the deputy minister. That will be a bit unfair because we are carrying out a probe in the health sector.
“Investigations on these matters are in progress and so we don’t want to jeopardise this process,” Murapa told the Daily News.
Efforts to get comment from Mangwiro drew a blank, with the deputy minister not picking up calls.
Surprisingly, the accusations against Mangwiro are said to have happened between July and August — just after authorities had jettisoned Moyo and former Natpharm chief executive Flora Sifeku.
According to a report by Zacc’s compliance and systems department, Mangwiro is being probed for allegedly forcing Natpharm to award a tender for laboratory equipment, reagents and consumables for Covid-19 to Young Health Care.
However, the tender has since been cancelled after the intervention of the graft-busting commission.
The Zacc report said Mangwiro allegedly convened a meeting with the Natpharm adjudication team where he threatened them with dismissal, after he had queried why the team was refusing to award the tender to Young Health Care.
The report alleged that Natpharm’s acting managing director reported that he had received a phone call from Mangwiro instructing him to convene a meeting with his adjudication team during odd hours to explain why the tender was not awarded to the company.
“The deputy minister (Mangwiro) also demanded that a purchase order be issued that same night.
“The adjudication team were picked up from their homes around 2200 hours and were interrogated by the deputy minister until the early hours of the following day.
“The deputy minister threatened the team with dismissal for failing to award Young Health Care the contracts,” the Zacc report said.
“Procurement process of the tender 04/2020 was marred by directives from … Mangwiro, resulting in delaying of the procurement.
“A letter from the then acting secretary of Health (Gibson) Mhlanga dated 15 July 2020, instructing Natpharm to make direct procurement of supplies from Young Health Care … was issued when the company was not registered with the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe.
“This is a violation of some provisions of Praz Circular 1 of 2020 which stipulate that only … listed suppliers are sources of Covid-19 supplies,” Zacc said further in the report.
The report added that when Natpharm insisted on competitive bidding, the tender process was allegedly postponed to allow Young Health Care to register with Praz.
“This delayed the procurement of Covid-19 materials. The deputy minister has usurped the authority of the permanent secretary as the accounting officer,” the report added.
According to Zacc, Mangwiro did not have the powers and mandate to undertake administrative duties — which were the responsibility of the permanent secretary.
The report further alleged that Young Health Care inflated prices and was also paid in advance before it supplied the purchased goods, after Mangwiro also allegedly directed Natpharm to do so.
“The initial quotation by Young Health Care for the supply of commodities under direct procurement, where prices quoted by Young Heath Care Limited were exorbitant, amounted to US$5,6 million which was coincidentally the same amount that was in the ministry coffers, suggesting that the company had inside information.
“When Natpharm insisted on competitive bidding, Young Health Care Limited subsequently submitted a bid price of US$3,6 million for the same items. This saw a reduction of 36 percent in the price.
“Young Health Care Limited was genuinely awarded the contract to supply nucleic acid and purification machines, transport media and reagents.
“Young Health Care Limited managed to deliver a paltry six percent of nucleic acid and another six percent of transport media, but went on to request pre-payment for the awarded contract, including undelivered supplies — contrary to the terms and conditions of the contract signed with Natpharm, which stipulates that payment should be made seven days after delivery.
“The deputy minister of Health and Child Care … reportedly insisted on pre-payment and tasked the technical team from laboratory and Natpharm procurement to visit Young Health Care Limited in their country office and verify available stock … in order to compel the Natpharm acting MD to make a prepayment to Young Health Care Limited.
“Such actions violated the eight evaluation processes since the technical team did not have the mandate to carry out the verification of supplies,” Zacc further said in its report.
“Natpharm’s acting managing director wrote a letter on the 26th of August 2020 to permanent secretary Mhlanga informing him of the pre-payment issue and seeking guidance on how to proceed.
“However, there was no response from the ministry, prompting the acting MD to decline taking the deputy minister’s instruction to pre-pay Young Health Care and he referred him to the signed contract … Verification team noted that items amounting to US$127 643 were in-stock instead of US$922 000 requested for prepayment,” the anti-graft commission said further.
“Given the extent to which the deputy minister was involved in the said tender process, indications are that he was acting on his own capacity and not on behalf of the ministry.
“The actions of the deputy minister signal a personal interest in the tender and this should have prompted him to declare his interest.
“The conduct of the minister during this tender process warrants further investigations for criminal abuse of office for possible violation of Section 174 of the Criminal Law Codification Act.
“Apart from this provision, further investigations should be conducted to ascertain possible violation of Section 14 of the Public Finance Management Act … by the deputy minister through giving ministerial directives having financial implications when he demanded pre-payment of undelivered goods to Young Health Care,” Zacc added.
This comes as authorities have taken a lot of flak over the manner in which the government procured Covid-19 materials — following the Drax saga which saw Moyo and other top public sector officials being arrested.
Mnangagwa has declared zero tolerance for graft and has so far sacked Moyo and former Labour and Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira, after they were mired in corruption allegations.
In addition, several other high profile individuals have been arraigned before the courts as Zacc clamps down on graft.
Former Energy minister in the late former president Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet, Samuel Undenge, is currently serving a jail term after he was recently convicted of corruption.