TRANSPARENCY International Zambia has urged President Edgar Lungu to suspend Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya and both his permanent secretaries in order to pave way for an independent investigation into issues raised in the Auditor General’s report.

In a statement, Thursday, TI-Z executive director Morris Nyambe said the President should also consider constituting a commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of the scandals and recommend that all officials implicated face punitive action, including prosecution where necessary.

“Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) is appalled by revelations made during the appearance of the Ministry of Health, Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA), Medical Stores Limited (MSL), Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) and Honeybee Pharmacy Limited, before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th January 2021. Among the most worrying revelations were that: The Ministry of Health allowed the countrywide distribution of medical supplies (condoms and gloves among others) that they knew were unsafe; The Ministry failed to properly account for a reported ZMW63 million which remained from the ZMW4.6 billion allocation it received from the Ministry of Finance; and the Ministry awarded a US$17million contract to Honeybee Pharmacy Limited, despite the company having 17 irregularities as reported by ZAMRA,” Nyambe stated.

“In the wake of these revelations, we wish to strongly urge President Edgar Lungu to seize this moment and demonstrate his commitment to fight corruption, a commitment that in our view has largely been given lip service so far. In demonstrating this commitment, we urge the President to do the following: Suspend the Minister of Health and both Permanent Secretaries at the Ministry in order to pave way for a serious independent investigation to be conducted into the issues that have been raised; and Consider constituting a Commission of Inquiry to get to the bottom of these scandals and to make recommendations that all officials implicated face punitive action, including prosecution where necessary. In addition to the two measures above, TI-Z wishes to propose that the Ministry of Health’s status as a government procurement entity be revoked with immediate effect as it has been clear for a long time now that the Ministry does not have the capacity to engage in procurement activities that are above board. We believe that it is time another government entity was given the responsibility of procuring on behalf of the Ministry of Health until such a time that the Ministry puts its house in order.” .

He stated that it was unacceptable for those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the health of the nation to recklessly put the health of citizens at risk because of the corrupt acts of a few selfish individuals.

“Given the pivotal role that the Ministry of Health plays in ensuring the good health of the nation, we find it unacceptable that the Ministry could abdicate that crucial responsibility by presiding over and facilitating a process that resulted in millions of Zambian citizens being put at risk as a result of using medical supplies that were unsafe. This negligence on the part of the Ministry meant that frontline health workers were exposed to COVID- 19 through the use of the gloves, while users of the condoms in question were exposed to sexually transmitted infections and risks of unplanned pregnancies. TI-Z finds it scandalous that those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the health of the nation could so recklessly put the very health of citizens at risk seemingly because of the corrupt acts of a few selfish individuals hell bent on stripping this country of its much needed resources for their own private gain,” he stated.

“Additionally, it has not come as a surprise to us that the Ministry of Health is yet again being cited for failure to account for public funds. We have over the years raised concern around the financial mismanagement and questionable procurement processes that appear to be rife at the Ministry. Even as recent as four months ago, we released a report from one of our projects that showed that the gaps existing in the Ministry’s handling of the COVID-19 donations were a potential conduit for corruption, which was confirmed a few weeks later by the Auditor General’s report showing that COVID-19 funds were indeed misappropriated.”

Nyambe expressed concerned that the Ministry of Health risked becoming the epicenter of corruption.

“TI-Z further wishes to reiterate its call for the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and other Law Enforcement Agencies to take keen interest in what has been transpiring at the Ministry of Health and conduct their own investigations to ascertain whether they need to take any action. We particularly call on the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA), which is mandated by Section 6, subsection 2 (a) of the Public Procurement Act of 2008 to ensure transparency and accountability in public procurement, to step up to the plate and take action against what is a clear disregard of the provisions of the Act by the Ministry of Health. Our suspicion is that the revelations that have come through the PAC hearing could be just a tip of a very big iceberg, and the need to reveal the whole extent of the rot cannot be overemphasized,” stated Nyambe.

“We further wish to remind all stakeholders that the Ministry of Health has in the past suffered the ignominy of Cooperating Partners withdrawing all their support to the health sector, and we fear that we could be heading in that direction if action is not taken to stop the rot. The consequences of such a move would be grave as the majority of poor and vulnerable citizens would be the ones to bear the brunt. The Ministry of Health has once again let down the people of Zambia and the donors who at the incidence of COVID-19 donated materials and finances to help in this fight but the behaviour of the Ministry does not inspire many to give generously especially when we are experiencing a new variant of the pandemic. We therefore wish to draw attention to the importance of not just taking action to address the glaring anomalies obtaining at the Ministry of Health, but also being seen to take that action. The health of the nation is far too important for us to allow it to be threatened by the whimsical desires of a few selfish individuals who see nothing wrong with flouting laid down regulations and procedures in a bid to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority Zambians.”