GOVERNANCE activist Rueben Lifuka says the non-delivery of drugs and medical supplies worth over K166 million dispatched from Medical Stores Limited, is not only scandalous but criminal.
And Lifuka says the Ministry of Health needs decisive leadership to bring such criminality to a halt and introduce a comprehensive reform process in order to get to the bottom of the malady that has afflicted it.
Lifuka was commenting on a Ministry of Health audit for the financial year ended December 31, 2020 which revealed that drugs and medical supplies costing over K166 million reported to have been dispatched from Medical Stores Limited to 23 health stations did not reach the destinations as at April 30, 2021.
The report also revealed that Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu received 189,300 medical kits from Medical Stores after their expiry date, and a physical inspection found that 60,000 Vacuum red top blood collection tubes of medical supplies were still in stock at the Laboratory while 129,300 had been issued to blood bank and used despite being expired.
But responding to a press query, Monday, Lifuka questioned why government had failed to work on the loopholes and the drivers of the various forms of malpractices associated with the Ministry of Health.
He said it was unacceptable that the lives of ordinary people were impaired through the artificial shortage caused by non-delivery of the medical supplies.
“The revelations made in the Ministry of Health audit for the financial year ended December 31 2020, makes sad reading as this is not the first time that audit queries of this nature have been raised by the Auditor General. Recently, there was a special audit related to the handling of Covid-19 donations and again the Ministry of Health was not painted in good light. One can go back into time and recall that donors have previously suspended their funding for health programmes because of many operational weaknesses. The question that begs an answer is why has the government failed to work on the weaknesses, the loopholes and the drivers of the various forms of malpractices associated with the Ministry of Health?” Lifuka wondered.
“The non-delivery of drugs and medical supplies worth over K166 million dispatched from Medical Stores Limited, is not only scandalous but criminal. It is unacceptable that the lives of ordinary people who should access these services are impaired through the artificial shortage caused by non-delivery of these supplies, or indeed the delivery of expired drugs and medical kits. This is not a matter for equivocation but a straightforward one where a thorough investigation should urgently be conducted and all those involved brought to book. It is time that such criminality and recklessness is put to an end. Zambia, for all intents and purposes, is a poor country and we should be prudent in the manner we manage public resources. This country spends too much time dithering on action to be taken against culprits- we need decisive leadership.”
Lifuka said stern action was needed in order to promote transparency and accountability at the Ministry of Health and further called on investigative wings to investigate the matter.
“There have been many calls in the past for urgent action to be taken to bring sanity to the Ministry of Health and these continued revelations by the Auditor General, are an indication of the pedestrian approach that the powers that be have adopted in dealing with this situation. Decisive action is needed, not tomorrow or in a few months, but today. We all recall how former President [Levy] Mwanawasa moved in and closed the Ministry of Lands to address the numerous allegations of wrongdoing and corruption in that ministry. The Ministry of Health needs a comprehensive reform process to get to the bottom of the malady that has afflicted it. Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with the Ministry which makes it perennially occupy a chapter in any public audit conducted. Mere change in leadership in this ministry seemingly has not worked and the problems that have beset it are systemic. It cannot be business as usual in dealing with this ministry,” Lifuka said.
“We should not wait to see more Zambians suffer ill health or lose their lives because of incompetency, negligence and maladministration. We should not permit a few unscrupulous individuals who have made siphoning of public resources a source of their livelihood continue to live at large without any sanctions. The Ministry of Health should be the epitome of efficiency and transparency given the serious mandate it has to execute and time has come to see changes at all levels. Zambia Police, Anti Corruption Commission and all relevant law enforcement agencies, should take interest. Zambia Public Procurement Authority should urgently review the systems and processes adopted by procurement entities related to health service delivery in this country.”