Police grab cellphones from MSL staff in pilferage probe

Police in Lusaka are scanning through cell phones and related gadgets confiscated from some managers and employees at Medical Stores Limited as they search for data related to drug pilferage and leakages at the institution.

And Medical Stores Limited (MSL) Managing Director Chikuto Mbewe has ordered the affected victims who are still in employment to divert from communication procedure as they seek clarification on the status of the investigation, saying only his office should deal with the matter.

Meanwhile, the employees under probe have complained that since police took away their phones, their lives have been unbearable, as they were ordered not to make SIM replacement if they decided to buy new communication devices.

The victims told News Diggers! top management at MSL was trying to implicate junior staff for the pilferage of drugs and leakages at the institution, and sought the help of the police to harass them.

The victims narrated that their phones were taken six months ago, and that even though the investigation yielded nothing, the confiscated phones were still being held.

“What happened is that on August 28, 2017, our management called for a mandatory meeting without disclosing the agenda. In the midst of the meeting, names of 12 members of staff were called out by the warehouse manager. These 12 were told to remain in the canteen were the meeting was taking place. After that, three men came to the table where we were and introduced themselves as state agents, but they did not produce any form of identification,” the victims narrated.

“They told us to put our phones on the table and there after told us that our phones were going to be confiscated for suspected diversion of essential medicines and medical supplies. We all complied despite the said officers not producing a search warrant. They told us that they would take away our phones and return them after four days. During that period we were not allow to replace our SIM cards on new mobile devices because, according to them, that was going to compromise the investigation that they were carrying out.”

The victims narrated that they were also ordered to surrender passwords for their phones.

“Two days later after collecting our phones, management ordered us to submit the passwords and lock patterns for the phones so that they could pass the data to the police. Weeks passed without hearing from management, and after asking, we were told that the data they needed for investigations was collected and the State was waiting for the dealing office who had been given another assignment at the Black Mountain in Kitwe to return so that he could give us back the phones. After about 2 months and three weeks from the date when our phones were taken, the Medial Stores security manager told us that the police had given a go ahead for us to replace our SIM cards if we so wished. Others did and others did not,” the sources said.

“Five months down the line, we wrote to management so that we at least get an update on how far the investigation was going and when we would get back our cell phones. We threatened to petition the Inspector General of police so that he could hear our grievance. Our complaint was that our rights were being infringed and our privacy invaded outside the provisions of the law. Right now, we the affected staff cannot have access to some of the facilities we are entitled to as free citizens of this country. We have not been arrested or charged for any wrong doing, but our rights have been taken away from us. We can’t get approval to have access to loan facilities; we can’t travel or communicate to our friends and relatives freely as we please.”

The victims said last week, the MSL managing director responded, telling them to stop communicating with anyone else but him on the matter.

“From the two letters which we wrote to the security manager and copied the Managing Director, Human Resources manager, company secretary and the union dated January 17 and February 7, 2018, the managing director only replied once on the 19th February with an instructions that all correspondence regarding the confiscated phones issue should only be addressed to him and not copied to any internal audit unit at medical stores Limited. Indeed, in his response to us, he never copied this letter to anyone at MSL, but indicated that he had sent a copy to the Inspector General of Police for administration purposes,” said the victims.

“Our own findings indicate that the so-called investigation was concluded a long time ago, and yielded nothing. But our phones are still being held for over six months now. We do not have the capacity to hire a lawyer, but we are appealing to the Human Rights Commission, the Minister of Health and even the IG himself to hear our complaint and stop this malicious witch-hunt. We insist that if we have done anything wrong, we must be arrested and taken to court so that we can prove our innocence and get back our lives.”

According to a letter addressed to the victims dated February 19, Mbewe police said police were still investigating the issue.

“Zambia Police investigations on MSL employees and request to return seized mobile phone devices under police investigation…. I refer to your minutes dated 17th January and 7th February 2018 that were addressed to the security manager and also copied to my on the above captioned matter,” Mbewe stated.

“I wish to bring to the fore the following issues for your attention. On August 28, 2017, the Zambia Police commissioned a special investigation on the suspected diversion of essential medicines and other medical supplies from MSL that led to the seizure of selected devices from yourselves. The purpose of this investigation was to launch an independent police investigation on the grave issues related to stock management of essential medicines suspected to have occurred and that had been identified by management and subsequently reported to the police.”

He said all grievances on the matter should be addressed to hi alone.

“The Zambia police have regularly kept us informed on the status of the current investigation. Any issue related to the seized phones is entirely under their jurisdiction, as they are the lead institution responsible for this activity. Further not that any administrative clarification or potential grievances on the current investigation related to MSL should be addressed to me as Chief Executive Officer and not copied to any internal unit as per procedure. I have copied this minute to the Inspector General of Police for administrative purposes only,” stated Mbewe.

         

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