TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TI-Z) says it is horrified by the revelations that fake COVID-19 vaccines were illegally imported in the country by businessman Valden Findlay.

Responding to a query on revelations that Findlay’s company Chrismar Earthmoving Equipment imported fake COVID-19 vaccines for supply to the Ministry of Health, TIZ president Sampa Kalungu wondered under what circumstances a private company without an import permit could be allowed to bring vaccines into the country.

“TIZ is horrified by the revelations made in the 1st September 2021 edition of the News Diggers, concerning the fake COVID vaccines that were illegally imported into Zambia and subsequently destroyed by the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA). There are a number of aspects about this illegal transaction that we find particularly concerning. To start with, under what circumstances was a private company that did not have an import permit from ZAMRA allowed to import COVID vaccines? What was the basis of their impunity in disregarding the requirements associated with the importation of such commodities into the country? This is not even to mention the fact that the said company, belonging to Mr Valden Findlay, is actually one that deals with earth-moving equipment rather than medical supplies of any sort,” Kalungu said.

“We also note that the normal practice over the last several months has been for the Ministry of Health through the Permanent Secretary Administration or the Minister prior to the dissolution of Parliament had been including COVID vaccine information in their daily COVID updates, right down to when the next consignment was expected, how many doses, and how it would be rolled out.”

Kalungu said the fact that the media was not informed about the said consignment raised questions.

“The media and other stakeholders have also consistently been invited to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to witness the arrival of these vaccines. The fact that all these good practices were not done with this particular consignment raises further questions about the whole transaction, which in our view cannot be explained by the fact that it was a private donation to Mr Valden Findlay as has been claimed in some circles. We are also appalled by the fact that a vaccine that does not meet the standards of the World Health Organisation could in fact find its way into the country, to the point of just awaiting purchase by the Ministry of Health for subsequent administration on unsuspecting citizens,” he said.

“The ease with which those entrusted with the responsibility to protect the lives of Zambian citizens consistently put the lives of those very citizens at risk, is particularly scandalous and not something we should be allowing to happen as a country.”

Kalungu further questioned why ZAMRA waited for two months before informing the public on the imported fake vaccines.

“We have not forgotten the scandal concerning the defective medical supplies that were distributed to the public by the Ministry of Health last year, and to see the same thing happen again is not only unfortunate but also defies logic on so many levels. TI-Z is also extremely concerned about the conduct of ZAMRA in this matter because we believe that the Authority has not covered itself in glory. For instance, why did it take ZAMRA two whole months to inform the nation about the confiscation of the said vaccines, and only after a query from News Diggers? Given that ZAMRA knew as far back as early July that the vaccines were not only illegally imported but also not fit for the Zambian market, why did it take this long for the Authority to destroy the contraband?” Kalungu questioned.

“As TI-Z, we feel that ZAMRA owes the nation a more detailed explanation than that given in their brief statement, which appears to have been a public relations exercise meant to absolve the Authority of any wrongdoing in this matter. We would like to put it to ZAMRA that they are a public entity whose primary mandate should be to serve public interest over and above the interests of private citizens, no matter how well connected to those in authority those private citizens are. The behavior of ZAMRA in this manner gives the disturbing impression that the Authority was trying to cover someone’s tracks, and we believe it is incumbent on them to correct this impression through a comprehensive and truthful explanation of the circumstances surrounding this matter.”

Meanwhile, Kalungu called on law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter, including Findlay

“Going forward, TI-Z calls on law enforcement agencies to take keen interest in this matter and to launch investigations that will reveal what really transpired. It is hard to believe that a transaction of this nature and involving importation of commodities that are not authorized for use on the Zambian market could have been completed without the knowledge or involvement of senior figures in government, and we hope that the investigation we are calling for will reveal all the players involved,” said Kalungu.

“It goes without saying that Mr Findlay should also be taken to task and be made to explain how he was able to break the law with impunity and to potentially put the lives of Zambian citizens at risk. TI-Z is convinced that this particular scandal sheds more light on the extent to which illegality and lack of adherence to the rule of law were allowed to take root in the previous regime. Our hope is that the coming in of a new regime will mark the turning of a new leaf and that such anomalies will no longer be allowed to happen. We, therefore, challenge the new UPND regime to rise to this challenge.”