When we reported that US$1 million worth of drugs and HIV test kits were stolen from Medical Stores Limited, the Ministry of Health responded that it was not “breaking news” because the government was already handling this matter.
Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya told the nation that government was going to pay back the US$1 million to Global Fund for the stolen medical supplies, while investigations into the theft continue. But there has never been another press conference to update the media and the public regarding any progress on that investigation.
The truth is that the government has been carrying out audits in government health facilities that received supplies from Medical Stores Limited during the period under review. However, the audits are being stage-managed in order to make the thefts vanish into thin air.
Let’s recap a little bit. According to the findings by Global Fund, who are the financiers of pharmaceutical products, stock quantities recorded at the Medical Stores’ electronic warehouse management system were negatively adjusted to reflect missing stock. Medical Stores staff could not explain the stock losses and the investigation also could not reconcile the stock adjustments with any outbound deliveries, expiries or other events.
In other words, there is no dispute that medical supplies were stolen, but there was no thief involved. Everyone who works at Medical Stores Limited is innocent. The Director is innocent, the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary and his minister are innocent. But the medicine was stolen, how is this possible?
Well, the same cover-up of theft that happened at Medical Stores is now manifesting in government hospitals, and thanks to a few patriotic Zambians, we now have a clear picture of how they hide their criminality, to make innocent Zambians pay the price.
On Monday, whistle-blowers sent us incriminating audio recordings of senior managers at Kafue General Hospital giving junior officers instructions to forge documents and cover up for their theft of HIV test kits.
We did not publish this information without asking the accused to tell their side of the story. They were in shock to hear that we had these recordings. They didn’t believe that we were calling from a media institution because they felt what we had could only have been possessed by perhaps a feared law enforcement agency. They were lost for words and they could not even deny their involvement in this criminality.
According to our whistle-blowers, those who were instructing junior officers to manipulate stock control cards to cover up pilferage of HIV test kits and other lab commodities include the following: Kafue General Hospital medical superintendent, Dr Mapani, KGH laboratory in-charge, Mandona Chungu, and senior laboratory technician, Peter Zulu, among others.
“These are errors that we have to address as a department. My signature cannot be there throughout; Mrs Mwanza’s signature can’t be there throughout. No one’s signature can be there throughout, meaning that all of us should handle the cards…we have to put the different signatures on the new cards,” they are heard conniving.
DR MAPANI: “No one is exempt from answering to audit queries in a department. Failure to which you pay, and it is not the institution to pay, it is individuals because they won’t allow us to get government money to pay for commodities, which were delivered. You cannot be allowed to steal from the same institution then the same institution should bring money to pay? No. So, if the auditors say ‘yes, update the cards’, update the cards. You sit down together and you try to recall, ‘on this day I got two boxes from the store room’, you enter and you enter until things balance.”
ZULU: “We need to speak with the same voice…There is this issue of cards not being up to-date. We should find a way, like the way we were updating from January up to December. These things are very expensive. If you check the prices, you just calculate what is missing and then they will just divide us. Now, you can imagine they start deducting K2,000 from your salary. So, it is better we just deal with this. And I suspect we have shushushus everywhere, so it is like there is someone who reported to say things here are not okay.”
CHUNGU: “What we want is the things, which were not entered, to be entered. There is no other way with dealing with this. You can go and ask even in other departments. You can go to accounts, go to pharmacy, this is how you handle audit issues; there is no other way. So, it is not like we are asking you to do anything illegal, no. And we have to make the cards a bit dirty so that it doesn’t seem new. That’s how audit issues are handled.”
In our view, Chungu was very honest in her instructions. In the eyes of our government leaders, this revelation doesn’t show any illegality. Indeed, this is how audit queries are dealt with under the PF regime. “We are just asking you to forge a few documents and there is nothing illegal because everyone is doing it”.
We can add to Chungu’s observation; ask the Ministry of Education, ask the Ministry of Finance, ask Zesco, ask the RDA, this is how audit queries are handled. They just manipulate documents and make the theft disappear. Even the auditors know that they are always duped, and sometimes willingly so. That is why the auditors who went to Kafue General Hospital received forged stock control cards, knowing too well that they were not genuine, but they walked away. This is happening everywhere.
Of course, we don’t expect these people to be fired, arrested or prosecuted because those who must punish them are guilty of the same crimes; but we are talking to their conscience. How can people sworn to save lives be the ones to kill and move on to cover up for the murder without any sense of grief?
Surely, even the devil himself gets surprised with some of the heartless deeds by the people who are running our government institutions in Zambia. In this Patriotic Front regime, it’s like hyenas are running a butchery and we the owners are expecting profit.