The National Democratic Congress says President Edgar Lungu’s silence on the revelations that US$1 million was stolen in form of drugs at Medical Stores Limited is a sign that that the Head of State is not concerned about the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS.

In a statement, the opposition party wondered how the country was going to manage the National Health Insurance Fund when it had failed to prevent theft of drugs at one warehouse.

“When they decided to sign into law the National Health Insurance Act, part of their argument was that they will be able to provide more medicines for the citizenry. But here we are with this government which has failed to even manage one warehouse in Lusaka where medicines are kept. US$1 million in donated medicines stolen and resold in privately owned pharmacies at a profit. These are the kind of people we have in government today, they will steal anything including life saving medicines in order for them to enrich themselves. Even as this scandal has broken, we have not heard one word from President Lungu, clearly a lack of seriousness or concern from this President,” read the statement in part.

“This case has brought out strong moral issues and concerns, we hear about corruption on fire tenders, mukula logs, road contracts etc, but when you hear that ARV’s, malaria medicines and HIV test kits which were donated by the Global Fund have been stolen, you wonder if some of these people have any humanity in them? Stealing 61,000 bottles of ARV’s will result in deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people, it is tantamount to killing the poor people who rely on these free medicines. The very people whose job it is to preserve life are the ones depriving the poor of life saving ARVs.”

NDC went ahead to give tips on how government could prevent pilferage at Medical Stores Limited.

“These people are now asking us as Zambians to pay health insurance tax, surely they will loot the National Health Insurance Fund the same way they have looted Medical Stores and the same way they are looting on the purchase of ambulances at $288,000 when good ambulances can be bought from Toyota at $70,000 each. Managing a medicine warehouse to prevent theft is easy, basic stock control and preventive measures are very easy to implement,” the statement read in part.

“Perhaps let’s give these incompetent authorities led by Dr. Chitalu Chilufya some simple but effective ideas of how to manage a warehouse;
1: Install CCTV cameras throughout the warehouse and premises, covering every inch of the facility. Good CCTV systems with IP cameras covering every inch of the warehouse would cost about K300,000, cameras that can be viewed even remotely. This CCTV system would have back-up power systems to allow it to function even when there is no electricity. This would be a good investment given the value of losses on the medicines that have been stolen.

2: Conduct fortnightly or monthly stock takes, stocktaking is a simple exercise that even small shop owners conduct every time which we can summarise with this simple equation; (Stock at beginning of month + Stock bought in during month – Stock taken out during month = Stock at month end closing). If this doesn’t balance at the end of the month it means medicines have been stolen;

3: Install electronic door access control systems and alarms at the warehouse so that only authorised people can gain access, employees should only be able to gain access to areas of the warehouse that they are authorised to access, this system will record who accessed which area and when so that if there is a theft it will be easy to identify the thieves;

4: Separation of duties, there must be many people involved in the supply and distribution mechanisms, there must be at least three external signatories issuing a requisition for medicines to be withdrawn from the warehouse, two authorising from the inside, another two organising for the dispatch, another two checking the quantity of dispatched goods being loaded onto the trucks and another person collecting and distributing the stock to it’s intended destination. It has been proven that where there are strong internal controls by way of separation of duties theft is less likely to take place. In order to steal all of these people would have to be part of the scandal which makes it less lucrative from a thief’s point of view. The Ministry of Health and Dr Chitalu Chilufya should go to Shoprite or Pick n Pay for a crash course and learn on how to manage a warehouse. These companies have millions of items in stock at any one moment but the levels of theft are negligible;

5: Employ private security firms to manage security of the facility and movement of stock. Shoprite and Pick n Pay for example use private security companies to manage some of these functions, these security firms have every incentive to make sure that they fully secure the facility because their business and reputation are at stake should things go wrong.

The NDC said it was not trying to gain political mileage by questioning the theft, but demonstrating its concern over the rampant abuse of public resources.

“Our message to Dr. Chitalu Chilufya is this; Don’t mock the people by saying that we are trying to get political mileage out of this as you stated the other day, the fact is that US$1 million in medicines have been stolen under your watch, people are dying due to lack of medicines which have been stolen under your watch, you are using taxpayer funds (our money) to refund the Global Fund for the stolen medicines and you have failed to manage the distribution and accessibility to medicines all across the country. Heed our advice and change for the better. With what is currently obtaining in your ministry with one scam after the other the people of Zambia have no confidence in you to manage the health insurance fund for 17 Million people when you cannot even manage a small medicine warehouse,” read the statement in part.