THE statement issued by the Ministry of Health on the Honey Bee Pharmacy Contract is embarrassing. This statement confirms all our fears. It is very clear that there is something very rotten about this contract. What is particularly embarrassing is the fact that a very well educated spokesperson for the ministry was prepared to issue that statement without seeing the wrongs that were being confirmed. In that statement, the Ministry of Health attempts to respond to this newspaper’s exposé on the Honey Bee Pharmacy’s US$17 million contract, and their explanation leaves much to desire.
Our story which took many months to investigate and verify was very clear and simple. The Ministry of Health apparently engaged in a limited bidding process for the supply of health centre kits. And one of the entities that bid for the contract is called Honey Bee Pharmacy. Having already come across a retails drug store by the same name in Kamwala, the first question that we asked ourselves was, what is or who is behind this entity? When we carried out some basic investigation, we found that Honey Bee Pharmacy was not a limited liability business. But instead it was a pharmacy being run by a sole trader called Imran Lunat in Kamwala, Lusaka. That immediately raised the red flags.
A sole trader called Imran Lunat bid for, and was awarded a contract to the tune of US$17 million. How was this possible? How much was this individual worth to accept a 17 million liability from government? The procurement rules are that to win a government tender of that magnitude, you must at least have the financial capacity equivalent to about three times the value of that contract sum.
As we delved into the investigation, we realised that the entity that allegedly bid for this contract was indeed Honey Bee Pharmacy, but when they ministry awarded the contract, they awarded it to Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited. And today, the ministry wants the public to believe that this was just an innocent mistake. A mistake? We don’t think so. The Ministry of Health knew that they could not give the contract to a sole trader, hence they awarded the contract to a limited liability company, bearing almost the same name as the sole trader.
What is interesting to take note of is the fact that this contract was awarded to Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited on November 22, 2019, but on this date, no company with such a name was registered at PACRA. Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited simply did not exist. So that means the Ministry of Healthy had given a contract to a company that did not exist. What demonstrates the criminality of what was going on, is the fact that there were pathetic attempts to launder this transaction.
Here is what else we found out. On September 3, 2019, the Ministry of Health invited bids from what they termed as shortlisted bidders, which included a company called Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited. These shortlisted companies were to deliver their sealed bids by 10:00 hours on September 13, 2019. And according to the Ministry of Health’s own records. They received a bid from Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited. The only problems is that no such company existed. Since this was a limited bidding process where the ministry of health themselves were inviting bidders, who were they dealing with from this non-existing company? At this point, the only Honey Bee Pharmacy was a shop in Kamwala run by a gentleman called Imran Lunat according to PACRA records. Where did the Ministry of Health deliver the letter inviting Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited? In Kamwala? The ministry must explain.
In October, 2019, a few days before the evaluation of these bids, some individuals incorporated a company called Honey Bee Pharmaceuticals limited. Which, it would appear, they wanted to pass off as the company that was going to be given a contract. The only problem again was that the company bidding was called Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited, this one created on October 16, was Honey Bee Pharmaceuticals Limited.
This is the problem of working backwards. You cannot avoid mistakes. After the evaluation, Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited which did not exist was given a US$17 million contract. The question remains, who was the ministry of Health dealing with and what track record did this company have with the Ministry of Health for this contract to be awarded through a limited bidding process?
Since it was limited Bidding, it was expected that they would pick entities within the same bracket, but they picked this sole trader among big multinationals and it won the biggest contract. What is the explanation from the evaluation committee for this?
To add to this comedy of errors, on April Fool’s Day this year, April 1, 2020, these geniuses who had won a US$17 million contract in absentia finally decided to register their company. The entity that was awarded a contract on November 22, 2019 was finally created and registered, on April Fool’s Day in 2020. It is interesting that when the first attempt to launder this transaction was made by registering Honey Bee Pharmaceuticals Limited, the sole trader who owned Honey Bee Pharmacy was not on the documents. But in the last attempt on April 1, 2020, he emerged as a shareholder in Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited.
This narration demonstrates that this is a dirty deal. There is something criminal about this deal. Before we published the story about Honey Bee Pharmacy, we contacted the sole trader in Kamwala who is supposed to have been given this contract, and we asked him about this US$17 million deal that his small retail shop in Kamwala was awarded. Mr Imran Lunat informed us that the contract was actually given to himself as Honey Bee Pharmacy. He confirmed that some other directors had since come in and he was now working for them.
We asked him to explain how he, as a sole trade was given a contract worth US$17 million, he refused to answer but instead said the Ministry of Health should explain. And he was probably right. The Ministry should explain how they gave a US$17 million contract to a sole trader, and why there has been all these attempt to launder this transaction. We are dealing with people’s lives and this kind of approach should not be entertained.
The Ministry of Health knows that their own documents show that this is a rotten deal. The only question that our law enforcement agencies should take interest in is; who is eating in this deal? It is very clear that it is about eating. It does not matter that people’s lives are being endangered, as long as these people can eat. This is wrong and our law enforcement agencies must demand a halt to this deal until a thorough investigation is done.
We now have three entities associated with this transaction. There is Honey Bee Pharmacy of Kamwala, there is Honey Bee Pharmaceuticals registered on October 16, 2019, and Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited registered on April Fool’s Day, 2020. This deal stinks. The explanation from Ministry of health is not making sense. Someone is trying to fool the Zambian people.