HONEYBEE Pharmacy Limited’s lawyer Tutwa Ngulube says it is shocking that the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) has decided to revoke the company’s licence when discussions on the matter are still ongoing.
And Ngulube has charged that ZAMRA is now being used by Honeybee’s competitors to fight the company.
Commenting on the Authority’s announcement that it revoked Honeybee’s licence, Ngulube complained that ZAMRA was embarrassing itself because it was using emotion to deal with his client.
“First of all, the person who issued the statement (ZAMRA senior public relations Christabel Mutale Iliamupu) doesn’t appear to be knowledgeable so much in procedures and when they are in court. It is shocking that we had a meeting at ZAMRA on Thursday; we agreed on the way forward; we went to court on a Monday, and told the judge what we had discussed in the meeting on a Thursday. From nowhere on a Friday, somebody wakes up and says, ‘there are no negotiations.’ All we can say is that maybe she was speaking out of ignorance because if she had known that first of all, the judge was given a particular position that the parties resolve the particular matter. In fact, the issue that surrounds that licence are very straightforward. The licence was in Honeybee Pharmacy and not Honeybee Pharmacy Limited. Now, that Honeybee Pharmacy does not exist and we told them, ‘this Honeybee Pharmacy no longer exists because now, the company was incorporated called Honeybee Pharmacy Limited.’ So, that licence ought to move from Honeybee Pharamarcy to Honeybee Pharmarcy Limited, and there was no problem, ZAMRA agreed that ‘yes’,” Ngulube said in an interview.
“In fact, if you’re at the series of events, which we are now bound to disclose, after the importation of the drugs, Honeybee had an agreement with ZAMRA, a written agreement with ZAMRA, and under that agreement ZAMRA is expecting some payment of K1.8 million payable on the contract under the license they have cancelled. What is the implication of the cancellation? The implication is that they don’t want the K1.8 million. So, we want them to make it categorically clear if ZAMRA had discharged Honeybee completely from making that payment? We do not want to comment on that notice by the lady because Honeybee has not been served, they have not been given the document officially. The only thing that we have seen is phone calls from journalists trying to find out from us what is happening. If you go to the High Court to go and check what did the parties tell the judge, you will find that what we told the courts was official and binding. But why are we now embarrassing ourselves? Are they telling us the lawyer employed by ZAMRA is not competent enough to speak good English before the courts? Or are they telling us that they are more intelligent than their lawyer? Or are they telling us that their lawyer broke the law? So, ZAMRA is embarrassing itself somehow because they are using emotions.”
Ngulube insisted that ZAMRA had also prematurely alarmed the nation on the supply of defective condoms when test results of the condoms that were supplied were yet to be released.
“Secondly, there is an issue of the matter being in court, we both agreed before the judge that we did not think the matter should proceed because we had agreed on the most difficult parts. Our major complaint was that ZAMRA does not want to communicate to Honeybee officially. They just write press releases, tomorrow we see them in News Diggers! The other day we see them on the frontline page, they have never contacted the owner of the contract, Ministry of Health. As we speak to you right now, the Ministry of Health who procured those drugs is not involved, they are not involved in anything that ZAMRA is doing. The magnitude of the contract is $17 million! So, is ZAMRA in the capacity to pay if they induce a breach of contract? In our thinking, they do not have that capacity,” Ngulube said.
“In fact, you people who write news, the whole issue started from expired condoms, why are people not talking about the expired condoms now? Why are we now diverting talking about issues that do not form the major complaint? The major complaint was that those condoms were defective, the condoms were taken to Zimbabwe, ZAMRA had not shown the nation what the condom results were from Zimbabwe. So, what are we doing as a country, you alarm the situation by making people believe that Honeybee supplied condoms that were defective and everybody wants to know what is the status of the result from Zimbabwe. The results from Zimbabwe have been kept under lock and key, hidden, we don’t know!”
And Ngulube charged that ZAMRA was being used by Honeybee’s competitors to fight the company.
“We are of the view that our client is not receiving fair treatment, if our clients enforced his right under the Constitution or any other law, he would be compensated greatly. It is now very clear that our client is being fought. In fact, between ZAMRA and Honeybee, there is no dispute whatsoever. No law has been broken, which law under the Medicines Act has been broken? Because if they are saying some of your drugs were out of specification…There are 29 companies that supplied the Government of Zambia and almost all of them, not almost, everyone who supplied has some of their drugs out of specifications. So, are they telling us that Honeybee is the only company that should be punished for having drugs out of specification? When National Drug Cooperation, Pharmanova, when all those international names, big names have their drugs out of specification, are they telling us the only person they need to punish is Honeybee? Or the only person whose licence should be revoked is honeybee?” Ngulube wondered.
“If the yardstick demands that whoever supplied the products that are out specification should have their licences suspended, then everyone must suffer the same fate. That is why we are saying why should we have seperate yardsticks for the same event? Me speaking as a lawyer, I see red, me speaking as a lawyer I am not seeing fairness in this game. I tend to believe that where 10 companies commit a misgiving, all of them are supposed to receive the same punishment. Now, that is where judicial proceedings come in because their unfairness is very clear. ZAMRA is required by law not to segregate, not to side with one state of companies, but to do justice because if they say, ‘supplying drugs out of specification is endangering the lives of Zambians,’ which is a very valid argument, then why should it just be for one particular company? These other companies can endanger the lives of all Zambians at will and because it’s not Honeybee, they should not be punished? There is no way the people of Zambia can ignore such a type of unfairness.”
He also complained that ZAMRA lacked consistency and insisted that they needed to be regulated.
“In our discussions with ZAMRA, we think somebody somewhere must read between the lines and tell ourselves that what are we doing with our State institutions. This is a State institution that we are trying to put in an awkward position. ZAMRA being a State institution should not flip-flop in their statements; they should be candid. If they were a private institution, we would have forgiven them, but ZAMRA works with statutory authority. They are a regulator, they need to protect people’s lives. So, if they can be so inconsistent it shows you that they need to regulate the regulator. It is now watching on the watchman because ZAMRA as a watchman has failed to reach the standards of a watchman. Between you and me, ZAMRA does not have a laboratory, they are depending on other people and other countries to do their job! They should be advocating to get a lab, they should be advocating for more funding from government in order to do a good job than making those statements, which they are now clearly fighting a private company. They are now seriously fighting a battle on behalf of Honeybee’s competitors. ZAMRA has exposed themselves as fighting a battle on behalf of Honeybee’s competitors. We are walking in the dark, we don’t know whether ZAMRA is taking us to the correct place or we are walking on our own,” lamented Ngulube.
“Even you, News Diggers! who reports on issues, why should you hold Honeybee accountable? Why not hold the others accountable as well? We are not safe as a country and we should not even pretend to be safe. In my understanding, I think ZAMRA, the regulator, is not levelling the playing field so well for Zambians. Some companies like Pharmanova, owned by Bokani Soko, have failed to supply and just recently, the people of Zambia were up in arms against Bokani Soko’s company over the 42 fire tenders, why are you not querying why he was given another contract at the Ministry of Health? Right now, as we are speaking, he has a contract. To you people, News Diggers! all that is not important because there is no Honeybee involved. At the end of the day, we must do and be seen to do what people expect us to do.”