MINISTRY of Health Permanent Secretary for Administration Dr George Magwende says most of the questionable instructions from higher offices were verbal, noting that the most powerful will never be found culpable in these circumstances.
Dr Magwende was responding to a query cited in the Auditor General’s report which revealed that a supplier delivered KN-95 Face Masks instead of N-95 Face Masks, thereby resulting in a loss to government of about K63 million.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Thursday, Dr Magwende said officers who were instructed to do the writing of the dirty work in the Ministry would suffer for the crimes of other people.
“There was a lack of moral fibre during the time. There was an existence of moral bankruptcy. During that time, much of the instructions from higher offices were verbal and [we] will never find the most powerful culpable in these circumstances and we know it. Yes, we have officers here that are physically here that had to do the writing of the dirty work that was instructed. I am not defending anyone but I am stating as it is. Men and women will suffer for the crimes of other people that I am sure this Committee knows,” Dr Magwende said.
But nominated member of parliament Likando Mufalali wondered why the entire procurement system was flawed by receiving items that were not ordered.
“Why should we have negligence from our own officials who should have done the right things? You allowed payment for goods that you did not order. I do not know how this thing passed. The entire procurement process, we want to know how you were able to pass this type of business to the tune of 63 million losses to the government,” Mufalali said.
And in response, former Ministry of Health permanent secretary for administration Kakulubelwa Mulalelo justified the delivery of the KN-95 facemasks.
“When goods are supplied, they are taken to Medical Stores because they are the ones who issue Delivery Note certificates. I believe you have correspondence from myself to Medical Stores requesting for them to clarify as to why the acceptance of KN-95 was done as opposed to N-95. They did provide a technical submission on the matter to say at the time there was a clear shortage of N-95 masks. They provided a technical submission that the reason why they accepted the KN-95 was because the two are similar in terms of specifications,” said Mulalelo.
But Accountant General representative Elijah Malunga argued that there was actually correspondence from the Attorney General that the blame lay with the Ministry of Health.
“We have got an opinion from the Attorney General which was given on the matter. This is our chief legal officer in terms of government. The guidance was given that the blame lies with the Ministry of Health and I think dealing with the supplier puts the government at further disadvantage in all this matter. To me I think we deal with the Ministry hoping that they deal with erring officers that procured or mis-received goods that were not actually of correct specifications,” Malunga said.
Meanwhile, Dr Magwende revealed that the “faulty” ICU Ventilators delivered to the University Teaching Hospital in 2020 could have possibly been installed wrongly.
“Yes it is not ethical to use a machine that you barely understand on a patient. Is there a possibility that the machines could have been installed wrongly? Yes, the possibility is there that these machines could have been installed wrongly by the officers. We were dealing with an emergency situation. We saw in certain jurisdictions, patients dying in corridors and roads. Is it morally right to do something in such a situation? It is morally correct to do something in that situation. If I have a machine that I suspect can save this person even if I barely understand that machine, I am morally correct to use that machine and save that soul,” said Dr Magwende.
“We are dealing with a situation where morality had to precede being ethical because we did not understand this disease. There was a time lag between the time we would order certain things and the time we would receive. We do not take pleasure in losing lives because we are trained to save lives. It was a desperate situation. Mistakes were made by commission, omission, deliberately and unknowingly but mistakes were made. Others will be found culpable.”
Meanwhile, Mufalali indicated that he had received videos of parents complaining that their children died due to “faulty” ventilators that were being operated by untrained technicians.
In conclusion, PAC Chairperson Warren Mwambazi said the committee would take position based on the submissions made, stating that law enforcement agencies would be engaged to ensure erring officers were brought to book.
“We know what transpired because we have got the submissions before us and we inspected. We will take a position based on that. The loss we are having is contracting people who are not conversant in medical equipment. If you dealt with a company that has been supplying these things for the longest time, I think we were not going to have these issues even if it is a local company. We have suppliers who are like any other person who can buy from China to supply but it has no quality. I think that is not acceptable. Going forward I think it is important that we do the right things in this country because health is very important. We shall follow up with relevant authorities to ensure that erring officers are brought to book,” said Mwambazi.