Last week, the Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya held a press conference at which he announced that government had resolved to comply with the Global Fund’s demand for Zambia to refund $1 million that was stolen at Medical Stores Limited (MSL) in form of ARVs, among other drugs.

In fact, let’s put it more simply for the people of Zambia. The minister was telling those citizens who did not take part in the theft that they will pay back the US$1 million that his ministry embezzled. As far as he is concerned, there is nothing wrong with getting more money from patients who are buying expensive drugs because free ARVs were stolen.

As if that was not enough mockery to the people of Zambia, the minister added that the theft of the $1million was not “breaking news” because government has been aware of this since 2016.

“There are many stages before a report of this nature becomes public. Like I said, we have been dealing with this matter from 2016. This is an old story that has been very decisively dealt with proactively, both at government and institutional level. Social media that is not informed and alert has noted a recent publication of an old activity that covered the period 2014-2016 and amplified it as ‘breaking news’. This is simplistic rumour-mongering that reflects a lack of effort in finding out the truth. There are stages and there is a time that shall come when we shall begin managing the refund. But we will pay back,” said Dr Chilufya.

Indeed like Maiko Zulu put it in his reaction to the minister’s statement, theft is no longer breaking news under the PF administration. It’s a common, everyday activity that his government is supervising, so the people of Zambia shouldn’t be alarmed when they hear about it. We just feel sorry for the whistleblowers who really care for this country but end up frustrated because no matter how much they expose, nothing is done to stop the looting.

In fact, some of the measures that Dr Chilufya and his government have put in place to prevent any further theft of drugs are actually laughable. The minister said police officers have been deployed to all Medical Stores Limited warehouses and all trucks carrying drugs have been inscribed with the warning that says “this truck is carrying medicines for the people of Zambia.’ Report any suspicious activities on this truck to MSL.”

Really? When the people of Zambia notice any suspicious activity by Medical Stores staff transporting drugs, they should report to Medical Stores Limited? The investigation says the drugs were stolen from inside, using manipulative data entries. It doesn’t say one driver diverted into Chibolya compound to offload a few boxes. And they put police officers at the entrance of the warehouse to enhance security when there was no break in reported as K10 million worth of drugs were being stolen. When citizens rise to question the morality of the people who are managing their health resources, the government leadership says it is not breaking news.

Bwana minister sir, it is not up to you to decide what should be reported as breaking news in this country and what shouldn’t. We respect the fact that you are a learned doctor, but news has nothing to do with your knowledge of medicine. So when we need a doctor who can certify the death of this country, we will get back to you. For now, step aside and allow us to share with the people of Zambia what we define as news.

Here is what the citizens of this country need to know. The revelation of drug theft in the Ministry of Health is a demonstration of how the government leaders will embezzle the National Health Insurance Fund. According to the Global Fund investigation, no one among the custodians of the medicines at the Medical Stores Limited or the supervisors at the Ministry of Health has been able to explain how ARVs grew legs and walked out of the warehouse.

This is exactly what will happen to taxpayers’ money that will go to Health Insurance. It will not go to its intended purpose and no one will be willing to take responsibility. And even if the culprits at Medical Stores were to be found, there is no way that the government will be able to recover the K10 million and refund the Global Fund. The only difference is that the citizens will not be able to claim any refund of the stolen Health Insurance money. What a shame!