HEALTH Minister Dr Jonas Chanda says his ministry is working tirelessly to ensure some issues with the procurement system are fixed so that the “imperfect human beings” tasked to run them cannot have opportunities to sabotage any processes.
And Dr Chanda has warned workers at the newly-established Zambia Medicines and Medical Supply Agency (ZAMMSA) of instant dismissal if found wanting of purposely creating an artificial drug shortage.
Speaking when he featured on a special interview on Capital FM in Lusaka, Thursday, Dr Chanda said that the Ministry was tirelessly working to weed out corrupt practices that stemmed from the flawed procurement unit, which had since been relocated to Medical Stores Limited.
“In terms of the vision, I wouldn’t say the vision is failing per se. We may have had issues with the procurement system for which we are taking measures to correct. I should also mention, the way the supply chain system works for medical supplies, not only drugs, you have seen if you go to Medical Stores, the system is set. But you know, these systems are run by human beings, they are run by people…and we know that human beings by nature are not perfect that is why we are there to ensure that we put in transparency and accountability,” Dr Chanda said.
He added that he will await for the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to issue their report on the unfolding Honeybee Pharmacy Limited scandal before decisions were made.
“I don’t need to meet them [Honeybee], but like I said, I should make reference to the procedures. The issue has been before PAC, submissions have been made. The actual details will come with the report when it is tabled and will be responded to effectively,” he said.
“I am not a prosecutor or an investigator, but what I would say, you know, government, we have separation of powers; we have the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary. Right now, as we talk at Parliament, we have the Public Accounts Committee. As you know, the job of Parliament is to provide an oversight on the Executive; PAC has interrogated these matters using the Auditor General’s report and because of parliamentary procedure, I will be restrained actually to talk about that because I know PAC will be presenting a report very soon in Parliament over the happenings at the Ministry of Health and that is the only time the Executive can officially respond to those matters…So, that is why I wouldn’t rush to judge anyone because people are presumed innocent before the law until they are proved guilty.”
But he warned ZAMMSA workers of instant dismissal if found to be sabotaging government by creating an artificial drug shortage.
“If it is found that there are people sabotaging government, drugs come there, then you deliberately make sure that they expire so that you create an artificial shortage in some facilities for political reasons, we are going to fire you, that is my warning! Very specific. So, we are interrogating the whole matter. Even that transition of the procurement will be done under a close eye. A phased approach done under a close eye. These systems are done by human beings. But that said, we are going to put up much more efficient systems in terms of the supply chain management in Medical Stores, which is now ZAMMSA, Ministry of Health itself, our procurement team, the finance teams, this is an all-inclusive approach. And I am happy to say that cooperating partners have actually come out very strong in term of supporting us with various systems for procurement at ZAMMSA itself,” Dr Chanda said.
“Of course, that situation at ZAMMSA, then Medical Stores is totally unacceptable because some of those drugs that I found there expired have been there for four years, 2017 to 2021, totally unacceptable and nothing will be swept under the carpet, that’s what I said. I already ordered them, they have submitted a report on all the drugs that have expired and I have ordered that they should incinerate all the expired drugs. While we look at the source of why that happened, again, it takes us back to the procurement system because it’s the procurement system that we are looking at and those are the changes, the reforms that we are making.”
And he urged ZAMRA to rise to the occasion and ensure that consumers only accessed safe drugs.
“That also puts ZAMRA in the spotlight because they are the ones who have to determine whether the health products are of quality, they are safe, they are efficacious for our people. We don’t want a situation where harmful products reach the people. That is why ZAMRA has to rise to the occasion,” he said.
He outlined that the main reason he proposed changes at director-level was to promote efficiency at the Ministry and was not in any way vindictive.
“The main reason why I made that recommendation is to promote efficiency, it’s nothing vindictive, it’s nothing personal. I don’t even know most of the directors by name, I don’t know them, I have never, I shouldn’t say I have never met them, but in terms of efficiency, in terms of my background, I am coming from that background of health system strengthening, making health systems efficient. I have done this in other countries, Swaziland, in Rwanda, so it’s just about efficiency and we hope that PSMD and Cabinet Office will guide in terms of redeployment of some of these people, but the final decision will be by Cabinet Office and PSMD,” Dr Chanda said.
Asked why other Cabinet Ministers interfered with the work of technocrats, Dr Chanda said that should not be the case as ministerial functions were clearly spelled out.
“I wouldn’t answer on their behalf, but they shouldn’t because the roles are very clear, just like I was saying, if you look at the three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary, the roles are clear. For me, my job on behalf of His Excellency is policy direction for the Ministry, making sure that we fight for more resources, making sure that we give the country direction,” he replied.
Meanwhile, on the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Chanda, who is also Bwana Mkubwa PF member of parliament, said that government would not force anyone to get vaccinated.
“Government will not force people to get a vaccine, but what government will do is to make people understand, it’s behavioural change and understand, ‘is this good for me or not?’ And I think any reasonable Zambian will understand that if you have a pandemic, which is killing your neighbours, infecting your neighbours, your friends, yourselves, the numbers that we announce everyday are not mere statistics, these are brothers, our sisters our fathers, our mothers,” said Dr Chanda.