WHAT we witnessed at the Parliamentary Accounts Committee on Wednesday is the unmasking of one of the biggest criminal syndicates that have been ravaging this country for many years. The criminality surrounding the US$17 million medical supply contract awarded to Honeybee pharmacy is so glaring that one would wonder why those people who were answering questions are still walking the streets and enjoying their freedom.
We would like to congratulate the Howard Kunda-led Parliamentary Accounts Committee for confirming everything that we have been publishing regarding this matter. We would like to commend the Auditor General, Dr Dick Sichembe, for fearlessly demanding accountability from the people who allowed US$17 million of taxpayers’ money to wind up in private pockets of greedy individuals. In fact, what people witnessed in that PAC hearing was not the full story, the scandal is bigger than what the culprits were willing to admit.
To start with, the people who went to appear before PAC as representatives of Honeybee Pharmacy Limited were not the people who were awarded the contract. The Ministry of Health awarded the contract to a sole trader going by the name of Imran Lunati. At the time when this contract was awarded, there was no limited company registered at PACRA. When we did our investigation, we published the fact that the ministry had awarded a contract to a company that did not exist.
In response to our expose, the Ministry of Health issued a statement claiming that they made a typographical error to add the word limited and insisted that the contract was meant and awarded to Honeybee, the sole trader. Hearing this, we got concerned and we rushed to the Attorney General to seek clarity on the matter. One of the questions we asked the Attorney General is: In the case of breach of contract, who will the government pursue, considering that he had allowed the ministry to award such a huge contract to a sole trader? Mr Likando Kalaluka, in his wisdom or lack of it, told us that the government would pursue the sole trader; he even added the name “Imran Lunat” in his response to us.
So we don’t understand what Mr Zakir Motala was doing before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee because he is not the sole trader that Mr Kalaluka said the government would pursue. Mr Motala is a director for the limited company, but the Ministry of Health said the word “limited” was erroneously added to the bid documents. When did the ministry announce the transfer of the contract from one bidder to another? We wonder now what Mr Kalaluka would have to say about this tender.
We heard during the hearing that “sometimes, the Zambia Public Procurement Authority exercises leniency when approving tenders”. But what our honourable members of parliament should have demanded to find out is how the immediate past Director General at ZPPA was removed from office. What was his position on this tender? We also heard that the Director General at ZAMRA was on leave and so could not appear before PAC. Our MPs should have also demanded to see proof of that leave to see when it started and when it was ending.
Our people must be reminded that this tender was not open to anyone who was interested to bid. It was the Ministry of Health that went out to look for companies to bid for this tender, and this Honeybee entity had no required wholesale certificate, no track record, no financial capacity to supply the said drugs. In fact, they used falsified financial statements purported to have been audited by I. Dore company, but the said audit firm refused ever having such transactions with Honeybee. Yet, this sole trader entity won a US$17 million tender, beating companies that had been manufacturing drugs for many years.
Without beating about the bush, this demonstrates the level of collusion in this corrupt tender. You can tell that the biggest government officers colluded to defraud the people and loot the treasury using this supply tender. When they were facilitating this crime, they thought they were clever, but look at how stupid and dull they looked when answering questions! Look at how many laws they breached just to get what they wanted from this tender!
It should not come as a surprise that in the end, Honeybee supplied damaged condoms and other medical supplies. This is what happens in a corrupt tender because money is never used for the intended purpose of procuring genuine products. Instead, the money goes to enrich the greedy few who played a part in facilitating the crime.
We have also been reliably informed that the people at the ministry who facilitated this tender have been knocking on the doors of Honeybee demanding their kickbacks. This is not information that we picked from a drinking spree, it is accurate information provided to us by the beneficiaries of the proceeds of this crime.
This is a crime that we must not sweep under the carpet; the criminals who colluded to steal K360 million must not be walking the streets freely and finishing parking spaces at the malls with their big, expensive luxury cars, they must be prosecuted and sent to prison. It’s not enough to simply talk, it’s not enough to name and shame them, we want them to pay back what they have been stealing from the people of Zambia.
To the Zambian people, we say, please don’t be so docile. Don’t let your money go to waste like this. We are concerned that you take too long to wake up to reality, you take too long to react to serious crimes, you act when it’s too late to do anything.
We understand that some of the scandals that we come across sound like fiction, and we feel the same sometimes when our sources narrate to us what is going on. The Honeybee scandal was such a case. Even when we published the first series of stories, we could tell that some of our readers thought ni nkani yamu kachasu. Like seriously, how is it possible for a kantemba in Kamwala to win a US$17 million contract? Well, it is possible if the Ministry of Health PS, the Attorney General, the ZAMRA boss and the ZPPA officials agree to abet a crime.