‘Minister must be sanctioned’

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Blessings Mashaya

SENIOR STAFF WRITER

mashayab@dailynews.co.zw

ANALYSTS have called for the suspension of Health deputy minister John Mangwiro, over allegations that he arm-twisted the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm) to award a US$5,6 million Covid-19 supplies tender to an unregistered firm.

In addition, they pointed to the fact that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had set a precedent in the past by sacking ministers who were mired in corruption.

This comes as the government has been rocked by claims of rampant corruption involving Covid-19 supplies, which saw Mnangagwa wielding the axe on former Health minister Obadiah Moyo.

Amid public outrage over the latest scandal to engulf Natpharm, political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that Mnangagwa should suspend Mangwiro to pave the way for a thorough probe into the allegations against him.

Senior consultant at the International Crisis Group (ICG), Piers Pigou, warned that authorities risked losing public confidence if they showed inconsistency in their approach to corruption — especially in cases involving bigwigs.

“The Health MEC (Member of the Executive Council) in Gauteng (Bandile Masuku) was dismissed on the basis of a similar preliminary investigation last week.

“The correct course of action is clear. Deputy minister Mangwiro should be suspended until the investigations are complete, but preferably he should be fired.

“A clear course of action must be set, and if the president was as committed to fighting the corruption scourge as he claims to be, we would see him taking decisive action,” Pigou told the Daily News.

Another political analyst, Admire Mare, also called for similar action against Mangwiro.

“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. But if he is found guilty of the charges, then he must be fired.

“Corruption has reached unprecedented levels in Zimbabwe and the sooner the government capacitates law enforcement agencies on handling these cases that are bleeding the national fiscus the better.

“This culture of saying “mbudzi inodya payakasungirirwa” must stop. Public service must not be used as a pretext for primitive accumulation,” Mare said.

Human Rights Watch director for Southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, also said there was a need for Mnangagwa to act decisively.

As correctly and first reported by the Daily News last week, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has opened an investigation against Mangwiro, over allegations that he arm-twisted Natpharm to award a US$5,6 million Covid-19 tender to Young Health Care Limited.

The company was not registered with the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz), a requirement for companies wishing to do business with the government.

Zacc deputy chairperson Kuziva Murapa confirmed to the Daily News then 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 Young Health Care.

Surprisingly, the accusations against Mangwiro 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 allegedly forced Natpharm to award a tender for laboratory equipment, reagents and consumables 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 also 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 was 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.

“Given the extent to which the deputy minister was involved in the said tender process, indications are that he was acting in 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.

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