THIS is a continuation of verbatim from the Parliamentary Accounts Committee hearing, where the Ministry of Health PS, Honeybee Pharmacy, ZAMRA, Medical Stores and other government agencies appeared for questioning over the US$17 million drug supply scandal:
Kunda: Yes, the other director.
Abdullahim: Thank you Chair, if I may, firstly, a couple of issues now that I have been given a chance, even though my hand has been up in the air for so long…
Kunda: We can’t see you. (Abdullahim switches on his camera via Zoom) okay, now we can see you.
Abdullahim: Okay, I was saying that firstly Chair, thank you so much, since so long my hand has been up trying to clarify on some of the issues that have been mentioned by some of the Honorables. Allow me chair here to first of all mention that one of the Honorables had mentioned that we as, I mean ah, Ministry of Health would have done better to let the then current supplier to keep on supplying and I would like to also put this on record that the then current supplier was holding the government to ransom for non-payment, hence, this is why I am pretty much sure that the Ministry of Health, this is now the other question that what was best seen in Honeybee to be awarded a contract of this magnitude which is also to put it on record, it’s contractual funded contract whereby ministry or the treasury or finance has not put up a single payment.
And so best seen or one of the best lines maybe in our contract was the delivery period in which we have proven, even though the COVID-19, which hit globally in December 2019 and then it shot to quite fast paced in India where our products were coming from and in March, they were all lockdowns all over the country and to my surprise is that this is something which is loud and clear that there was total shutdown in India [and] not even manufacturing was taking place. And one more thing I would like to also put on record that the delay for the kits to be supplied was some of the medicines and the drugs that were required such as amoxillin was outdated, so they had to re-clean their machines and start manufacturing specifically for the Zambian standard which is required here in Zambia and…
Kunda: I think that, we hear you but there are specific questions that you need to address.
Kunda: Could you please address…
Abdullahim: (interrupts) Also those questions were not being addressed yet by my colleague as well so this is why I am trying to note them down.
Kunda: Give me chance to give you chance to speak
Abdullahim: Thank you
Kunda: Yes, so what I am saying is that there are specific questions that your colleague here, the director from Honeybee who is present here has asked that you answer. So please address those questions so that we can make progress.
Abdullahim: Our lawyers are both Thandiwe as well as Makebi and Associates, that’s the question, the answer to the question. Can I also add up on one or two things please, Honorable Chair?
Kunda: Yes you can.
Abdullahim: Okay, Honorable Doreen had mentioned that the ZAMRA application was done in April, that was for the pharmaceutical wholesale license and the Honeybee Pharmacy has been running in Zambia since 2016 just to clarify that. On another issue, on the condoms issue, I would like to also mention that ZAMRA got hold of Honeybee and they shared the discoloration of the Paracetamol and to their satisfaction, they said we have to recall the entire batches even though only some of the batches were discoloured. We complied and we recalled the entire shipment of Paracetamol and immediately, we engaged the manufacturer who is a WHO and a GNB certified manufacturer in India who immediately started processing the new batch of the paracetamol and which was shipped immediately and delivered to MSL and I am very much surprised that to date, we haven’t received any correspondence regarding any condoms or any latex gloves. Thank you Chair.
Kunda: Yes Honorable Simbao.
Simbao: Thank you Chair, Chair, I am a bit shocked and maybe I don’t know…how did you get the privileged information that the suppliers had held government to ransom, how did he get that information? Thank you.
Mbulakulima: Chairperson can I just emphasise that point.
Kunda: Honorable Mbulakulima you would want to follow-up on the same?
Kunda: Please do
Mbulakulima: I am glad that Honorable Simbao is thinking in the same line. We have just learnt here, I want the controlling officer to come out very clear. We have learnt through the supplier, one of the competitors, that the other supplier was holding government to ransom. This is an outsider, this is somebody outside Ministry of Health. Now, this is what we call privileged information, in accounting, inside journal. Can we find out from the accounting officer, how did this company get to know this information? Is this the way you operate, is it ethical? I need very serious answers to this, I thank you Chairperson.
Mulalelo: Honorable Chairperson, I cannot answer on behalf of the supplier but in my submission yesterday, I did indicate that the Ministry of Health has an existing framework contract with Missionpharma and I did indicate in my submission yesterday that Missionpharma has declined to supply the Ministry of Health with any further health centre kits due to the debt that we have. So this is a topic that was discussed yesterday and it was also repeated earlier on by our head of procurement, I submit.
Kunda: Please Honorable Mbulakulima switch off, mute yourself so that when coming in you can unmute. Yes Honorable Simbao.
Simbao: Chair if you listen to what that man is saying, that man is saying that company is holding government at ransom. That company declining to participate has nothing to do with holding government to ransom, how did he get that information that this company has held government to ransom? Holding government to ransom means having money and saying we won’t supply because you owe us whatever you owe us, that’s what that man is saying. So, who gave him that information because declining to supply, what is that, is that holding government to ransom? No.
Kunda: Yes PS
Mulalelo: Honorable Chairperson, I don’t think I can be held accountable for the terms that are used by the supplier.
Kunda: Yes supplier, can you clear the air. Where did you get that information?
Abdullahim: Thank you so much, I am writing here my notes, I am sure you can see, just now I have written them and yesterday I was writing them as well…
Kunda: Could you please address the question.
Abdullahim: Yes, I have picked it up from what I have heard…
Kunda: Yesterday, listen, please mute yourself.
Abdullahim: Thank you
Kunda: Yesterday you were not here. Where were you writing that from? You were not on this link, you are referring to yesterday, could you please address these issues so that we can make progress. Yes director from Honeybee.
Abdullahim: Thank you Sir, thank you Chair. Earlier on, I believe there was a statement that they passed and that’s what I wrote down by one of the Honorables, mentioning that the then current supplier would have done a better job, okay. And the Honorable was referring to probably the suppliers who were there before the stop gap measure came in place of this so called emergency supply. And yesterday, there was the same statement by the PS about the supplier not supplying even today, she has mentioned, it is on record that why the emergency came in, due to the not supplying by the supplier, whoever the supplier was, this is what I am referring to. Honorable….
Kunda: Yes, if you can hear from what I am saying
Kunda: So would that amount to holding government to ransom?
Abdullahim: Sir, in my understanding, an emergency of supply is only required when there is no medicines in the centres.
Kunda: So would that amount to what you have referred to as holding government to ransom, that is the question.
Abdullahim: That’s my interpretation, Sir, Honorable Chair.
Kunda: Okay, mute yourself. ZAMRA, there are questions that have been posed to you. I hope that you took note. Could you please address those?
Chilindi: Thank you Chair and thank you members for inviting us to make clarifications. The first issue is to do with the licence. Chair, you had alluded to our report, our report which was generated by inspectors who initially went to the facility which was to be used as the wholesale facility. The first team that went to the facility noted from our checklist that certain issues that we expect to be found in the facilities were not available. So they brought back the report with that recommendation and a team sat again because that is not the final decision. The inspectorate do sit again to review the report, what were the deficiencies and in the spirit of helping our local manufacturers and wholesalers and retailers as alluded to earlier, we tried to assist applicants, our would-be clients. So we look at certain deficiencies and see if they could be done with along the line and it’s not unique to Honeybee, various outlets, retailers even manufacturers. You could be aware, we have manufacturers in the country, if we find them with deficiencies we do not completely stop them to give them a wholesale license or a pharmaceutical license. A pharmaceutical license, to make it clear Chair, allows an entity either to deal in wholesaling if medicines or manufacturing of medicines. So with Honeybee, there were deficiencies that were noted. So the team sat and evaluated.
Kunda: How many deficiencies did you…
Chilindi: Chair, unfortunately I don’t have my checklist with me but there were deficiencies that were there, that were noted and the applicant was engaged and these issues were brought to their attention. Thereafter, the applicant was asked how they could deal with these matters…
Kunda: I am with your report, it says 17 deficiencies.
Kunda: Were you, in the second meeting, satisfied that these issues, these deficiencies would be dealt with?
Chilindi: Yes Chair.
Kunda: All of them? That made you, the same people who [you] rejected and within a day you agreed to these issues?
Chilindi: Yes Chair, I would submit that, that was the action taken by the authority.
Kunda: How long, just for clarity and to clear the air, how long is one application supposed to take for you to approve?
Chilindi: Chair, from within the authority, we are supposed to expeditiously attend to our clients once they apply for any licenses and depending on the availability of our inspectors, especially those that are based in Lusaka, we could attend to them there and then but those that are outside Lusaka, it could take longer, even a week or two weeks.
Kunda: How long does it take? Yes Honorable Simbao. Please address this issue.
Simbao: Chair, what upsets me, I don’t think we are dealing with the right person. How can a person come and sit before us and don’t even know the number of inefficiencies or deficiencies that they found? You have just told him 17, he had no idea what it is. How do we accept such a person to sit before us? Thank you Chair.
Kunda: [To Chilindi] Are you the right person to sit before us and answer to these issues?
Chilindi: Yes Chair
Kunda: Just give us your title again.
Chilindi: I am director of laboratory services Chair.
Kunda: Director of laboratory services
Chilindi: Yes Chair
Chilindi: I am sitting in for the director general.
Kunda: You are sitting in for the director general.
Kunda: You are sitting in for the director General. Where is the director General?
Chilindi: She is currently on leave.
Kunda: Currently on leave?
Chilindi: Yes Sir
Kunda: And the importance of this meeting was not taken into consideration for her to be here? Yes director from ZAMRA who is not giving us the information, yes, give us information.
Chilindi: Chair, the facts I have given is what I am aware of.
Kunda: Yes AG
Attorney General: Thank you Chair, again, the director is not giving the correct picture and is also misleading the committee. From our audit, on the 27th, when the report came out with the recommendation of “don’t give Honeybee the license”, there were no minutes where an organisation or a group of people say to give a decision that despite the report we will give the license tomorrow. So when the report came out on 27th of August, what happened, the following day? Despite the report saying no, the license was issued. Further, in 2020, when you went back to inspect on those deficiencies, that’s when some of the deficiencies were addressed and the report from ZAMRA came out and said “this is the time now you can give Honeybee the license”. The report is here which is dated 16th August, 2020. This is the report which recommended what you are saying. In between 27th and 28th when the licence was issued, there were no minutes, there was no meeting but the license was issued but further again, the license was recommended after a year by your same institution. So, there is something that is not adding up, I submit Chair.
Kunda: Yes, director
Chilindi: Yes Chair
Kunda: It is something that we take very seriously if you mislead the committee. And remember, we have extended the provisions of Cap 12 of the laws of Zambia that gives you authority to speak but that authority is not absolute, you need to be factual and provide just the correct information. Now, if you mislead this committee, the same provision is invoked. So are you trying to mislead the committee or what because we have not received any evidence that you held the second meeting? The minutes of the report is here. Yes director.
Chilindi: Yes Chair, I agree that there is no copy of the minutes and that is an oversight on our part but a meeting was held, I still submit Chair and that, as indicated…
Kunda: Where is the evidence that the meeting was held?
Chilindi: Chair, like I said, that is an oversight on our part that there are no minutes Chair and…
Kunda: Where are the minutes? Because if you held a meeting, you are supposed to have minutes of a meeting and for this serious issue of giving license within three days, I think that you need some form of evidence to show that this was done and these are government departments that need to follow the law. That’s why I am asking you, how long it takes for you to give a license, I am sure there should be some time frame to it that your institution operates within. Yes Honorable Kasonso.
Kasonso: Yes Chair, ZAMRA, just as a matter of curiosity, do you work on Saturdays and Sundays?
Kunda: (to Kasonso) please switch off the microphone if you would want him to answer to that.
Chilindi: No chair unless required for certain issues that we need to deal with.
Kasonso: So in this particular case, you were required to work on Saturdays and Sundays?
Kunda: Yes ZAMRA
Chilindi: No Sir.
Kasonso: But the report shows that the second meeting was held on Saturday and Sunday and what was urgent and special about this client?
Kunda: Yes ZAMRA. You worked on Saturday and Sunday to approve and issue this license?
Chilindi: Yes Sir, like I said, I don’t have the record before me but if the Honorable committee member has that record, I would take that record and indicate that we are required to…
Kunda: You said, you agreed that you acted on this issue expeditiously and obviously you should have known that you worked on Sunday and Saturday. So how come you are saying you didn’t know whether it was a Saturday or Sunday? Yes ZAMRA
Chilindi: Chair, that licence was issued on 28th August which is a Wednesday in 2019 and officers who sat to review the matter sat on the 27th and partly on the 28th of August.
Kunda: Okay, I have got documents, you know this committee we have information, we don’t just speak because we don’t want to mislead anyone. So, the second inspection was on Saturday, 15th August 2020, a year later.
Chilindi: Chair, yes I remember…
Kunda: And this recommendation to now advise that they should be granted, isn’t it? Was on Sunday, so this is why we are asking and you had already given, a year before.
Chilindi: Yes Chair…
Kunda: Please give me chance to finish my question. This was granted on a Sunday, on the 16th of August, 2020. This government department, ZAMRA, does it operate on Saturday and Sunday and the question from Honorable Kasonso was, what was special about this? A year later, after granting the licence?
Chilindi: Chair, I need to submit that the license which was issued in 2019 was based on the fact that the client was to attend to certain deficiencies noted as in the report and ZAMRA inspectors had been following up with the client and on that particular day, on the Saturday, I removed there was a team that visited the facility to countercheck. Initially, the team was supposed to go on a Friday but due to operational challenges, they did not visit the facility on a Friday, the more reason they visited the facility on a Saturday.
Kunda: On a Saturday and Sunday?
Chilindi: Saturday, that’s when they visited the facility and did a report on a Sunday.
Kunda: Okay, so does ZAMRA operate on Saturdays and Sunday?
Chilindi: In certain instances, we do operate especially that the initial inspection was done in 2019 and partly Chair, we wish to submit that it was partly to do with our operations that we delayed to make follow-ups on the inspections of this facility and there were complaints from the client.
Kunda: Would I be correct to say, yes Honorable Anthony Mumba I have taken note, would I be correct to say that you held these meetings in a hurry because you wanted to fulfil and satisfy the Auditor General’s report seeing that it had come out and these issues were raised, would I be correct to say that?
Chilindi: Chair, we have several backlogs and certain issues we attend to them in that way, I would not say that we worked because there was a report that came out.
Kunda: So, what was the urgency?
Chilindi: We had, our client was asking that we should visit them to check whether they had cleared the deficiencies which were noted earlier.
Kunda: Okay, you have the correspondence to that effect that they were asking you to go and deal with the efficiencies or look at what they had done?
Chilindi: Yes, though I do not have it here Chair but we can submit.
Kunda: You know you are on record, so whatever you say here is taken note of.
Chilindi: Yes Sir
Kinda: So when are you going to make that available?
Chilindi: I can even provide that by Friday, even tomorrow when we get back to the office
Chilindi: Give us up to Friday Chair.
Mumba: Friday, a document that is existing?
Kunda: So we’ll take tomorrow since you said Friday or tomorrow so we will come to tomorrow so that you can provide that. Yes Honorable Anthony Mumba.
Mumba: Thank you Chairperson, I just wanted to find out from the director from ZAMRA, you know very well that government has got a very thin fiscal space and you know very well that working over the weekends attracts overtime or other allowances. Could you share this committee whether your staff were paid by the government or was it that they had any other motivations other than providing the service that they provide because you should also be aware that in Zambia today, including yourself, to leave your home on Saturday to go to the office, there must be something that has really motivated you to go there. Would you confirm whether government paid allowances to these individuals?
Chilindi: Chair I wish to confirm that no one was paid an allowance to work on that Saturday and Sunday.
Mumba: So you are confirming to us that you have got a very nice staff that you can instruct to work on Saturday and Sunday and they would work? If yes, why do you have a backlog?
Chilindi: Thank you member…
Kunda: You give me an opportunity to call upon you to speak, so please switch off your microphone. (Chilindi switches off) Now you can continue and speak.
Chilindi: Thank you Chair for the guidance
Kunda: The AG, please come in.
Auditor General: Thank you Chair, again just to put things in sequence and events the way they came out, on the 27th when you did the inspection, there was that inspection report and from that inspection report on the 28th, you issued a letter to Honeybee that you cannot give them the license until they attend to the whole 17 issues, on the 28th but again on the same 28th, you issue the license then later on, after a year, you say on Saturday and Sunday after the Auditor General’s report has come out, you say again in the minutes that’s when you recommended that now you issue the license to Honeybee, a year later. So, the question is, you say you can’t issue the license until they attend to this, on the same day you issue a licence then after a year later again you recommend that this is the time we should issue the license, so which day was the license supposed to be issued? I thank you Chair.
Kunda: And also, a year later on a Saturday and Sunday. Yes ZAMRA.
Chilindi: Yes Chair thank you. When the letter was delivered to the client, the client requested that they meet with the authority so that they make commitment to deal with the matters that were raised thereafter, that’s when the authority took into consideration their submissions and based on their commitment to deal with the matters that were raised in, that’s why that license was issued which was to us, is like a conditional license for them to make sure they deal with those matters because as we follow up on the issues that were raised, if the client does not fulfill, the license is cancelled later on forthwith.
Kunda: The same Act, yes before I come in, yes Honorable Simbao, if you can switch off the microphone ZAMRA.
Simbao: Chair, I don’t know if the director heard the AG, I don’t think he heard the AG, the AG is saying in 2019, they themselves rejected that they should give a license to Honeybee but on the same day, I don’t know who rejected and who gave the license, I don’t know if it was the same person or it was another person but on the same day when there was a rejection, somehow, someone decided to give them a license. Then later in 2020, they realised that they should have given Honeybee a license then they recommended that they give Honeybee a license. Is that mistake, or I don’t know how to call it, confusion that the AG wants them to clarify not what he is explaining.
Kunda: Yes ZAMRA. Please be clear.
Chilindi: Chair without belabouring the issue, we have taken note of the confusion in the correspondences as the AG has alluded to and I think to do with streamlining our procedures so that we ensure that this kind of mix up does not happen again.
Kunda: I asked you, how long it take for you to issue a licence, from application, how long does it take?
Chilindi: Chair, the license can take like I said from one day to one year depending on how the client who has applied is attending to the issues that were raised in the inspection.
Kunda: Is there some form of guideline that you follow in as far as issues to do with issuance of licenses is concerned?
Chilindi: Yes Sir, from the point of inspection and if we are satisfied with the requirements…
Kunda: Are you guided by an Act of Parliament in as far as dealing with these very important issues of giving licenses to companies that deal with medicines in this country? Yes ZAMRA.
Chilindi: Yes Sir, we are guided by an Act of Parliament, the Medicines and Allied Substances Act No.3 of 2013…
Kunda: uuhhmm, okay. Now, are you aware that there is a provision in that Act that states of the period that you are supposed to take for you to issue a license? Are you aware?
Chilindi: Yes Chair
Kunda: Could you please speak up.
Chilindi: Yes Chair
Kunda: You are aware?
Chilindi: I am aware of the provisions Chair
Kunda: Which provision?
Chilindi: What particular section I am not sure Sir I need to…
Kunda: Maybe for clarity, section 34, subsection two, or maybe I can start from one “a person who intends to manufacture, distribute or deal in any medicine or allied substance shall apply to the Authority for a pharmaceutical license in the prescribed manner and form upon payment of the prescribed fee”. Two, and two is the particular one that I am interested in “the authority shall within 90 days of the receipt of the application under subsection one, issue a pharmaceutical license to the applicant if the applicant meets the requirements of this Act”. There are three questions, one, from application was everything, all the requirements met by this applicant that is in question?
Chilindi: Chair, not all the requirements at the facility were met.
Kunda: But the Act is saying the one to get the license should have met all the requirements of this Act.
Chilindi: Chair, as indicated earlier, in all the facilities we go to, we always find one or two deficiencies but we look at the…
Kunda: In this case, we are talking about 17, not one or two. Yes ZAMRA.
Chilindi: Yes Chair I take note of that and as indicated that the facilities that our inspectors go to, they find deficiencies, they might find everything is okay and clearly indicate everything is there but in cases where there are deficiencies the team sits to look at the deficiencies available and engage the client, what commitment they could give to deal with those deficiencies. Based on that spirit of also helping the business sector, ZAMRA always deals with clients in that way. For the sections that have been cited, from ZAMRA, I will just submit Chair that we need to revisit our guidelines so that we apply that provision properly with guidance in the way we implement issues to deal with deficiencies that we note but give the license Chair.
Kunda: So in the spirit of helping these businesses, you would sacrifice to go against the law, to go against the rules that have been put in place for ourselves as citizens of this country to follow, is that what you are saying?