Minister in US$5.6 million Covid-19 tender storm

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By Alois Vinga

A ZIMBABWE Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) report says Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro should face the music over a tender scam involving US$5.6 million.

Mangwiro, it has been reported, allegedly used his undue influence in favour of an undeserving company which offered Covid-19 equipment and other medicines.

The revelations were triggered by an anonymous letter filed at ZACC alleging that the top government official caused the awarding of a tender to a Young Healthcare Limited whose products were said to be sub-standard and did not meet World Health Organisation and FDA specifications.

The company was accused of making price quotes which were higher than other competitors offering WHO approved products.

The under-fire minister was also accused of convening a meeting with the tenders’ adjudication team on whom he piled pressure and threatened with dismissal if they failed to approve the tender.

In its findings, ZACC found Mangwiro liable to non-compliance with provisions of Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe Circular 1 of 2020 and gross violations of the Public Finance Management Act and the Public Entities 5 Corporate Governance Act.

The report says Mangwiro issued numerous directives to National Pharmaceutical (Natpharm) Company, a government owned company that procures warehouses and distributes medicines and medical supplies to the health sector.

“A letter from the then Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Mhlanga dated 15 July 2020, instructing Nat-Pharm to make direct procurement of supplies from Young Health Care (attached) was issued when the company was not registered with PRAZ,” ZACC said.

The anti-corruption organ’s report said this was despite the fact that Mangwiro does not have authority to issue directives to Natpharm.

The report notes that the initial quotation by Young Health Care for supply of commodities under direct procurement, where prices quoted by the firm were exorbitant, amounted to US$5 600 000-00.

This, coincidentally, was the same amount that was in the ministry coffers’, suggesting that the company had inside information.

“When Nat-Pharm insisted on competitive bidding, Young Health Care Limited subsequently submitted a bid price of USD$3 600 000-00 for the same items. This saw a reduction of 36% in the price,” ZACC said in the report.

The report also observed that the tender was only floated for 48hrs instead of 40 working days under normal circumstances, resulting in 22 bidders participating.

The adjudication of the tender started from the 8th to 10th of August 2020 and resumed from the 13th and 14th of August 2020.

According to ZACC, Natpharm acting Managing Director reported that he received a phone call from Mangwiro instructing him to convene with his adjudication team during odd hours to explain why the tender was not awarded to Young Health Care Limited.

The Deputy Minister allegedly demanded that a purchase order be issued that same night.

The report alleges that the adjudication team was picked from their homes around 2200 hours and were interrogated by the Deputy Minister until early hours of the following day.

“The timeous intervention by ZACC has resulted in the cancellation of the controversial tender awarded to Young Health Care Limited, thus saving the nation from a potential loss of USD$2million, had the tender been awarded,” added ZACC.

Mangwiro is the second minister within the country’s health portfolio to be fingered in a Covid-19 kit procurement storm following almost similar allegations levelled against Obadiah Moyo who was in June this year relieved of his duties as substantive health chief.