Sunday, December 3, 2023

Corruption forces Masisi to hoard Covid-19 billions

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has assumed absolute command in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and has shunted the Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Lemogang Kwape aside.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up documents revealing that the president has also withdrawn the more than P2 billion Covid-19 budget from the Ministry of Health and placed it under The Office of the President following reports of widespread corruption.

The more than P2 billion is now being administered by the Covid-19 Procurement Unit with is part of the Covid-19 Task team under the Office of the President. Masisi who chairs weekly Covid -19 Task team meeting is now commandeering the fight against the pandemic and the attendant corruption.

Investigations have further revealed that the Covid-19 Procurement Unit under the Office of the President has already started reversing and cancelling some questionable procurements made by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

Sunday Standard can reveal that among Ministry of Health procurements which have been stopped by the Covid-19 Procurement Unit was the procurement of 400 000 Covid-19 RT-PCR Kits. These are test kits used in COVID-19 real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) test for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2 in upper and lower respiratory specimens.

Documents in the Sunday Standard possession reveal that the Ministry of Health had padded the price of the kits by about P200 million. In a budget estimate made to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health had indicated that it would spend P240 million to procure the kits at P 600.00 a unit.

It has however emerged that the Ministry of Health had inflated the price by more than 400%. The Covid-19 Procurement Unit was able to procure the same kits for P50 million at USD$12.00 a unit about (P140 a unit).

The Covid-19 task team is also understood to have forced the Ministry of Health to cancel the procurement of flu shots after it emerged that they were to be delivered after the winter flu season and would not be used next year as the flu strain would have mutated.

The Ministry of Health was initially allocated P2,153,691,190.00 to fight and contain the pandemic. This was after former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness presented a Covid-19 budget estimate of P2,259,694,550.00 comprising P 2,088,249,450.00 for personal protective equipment, drugs and medicines and P171,445,100.00 for operational costs. The Ministry of health and Wellness was able to source P106,003,360.00 from its 2020/2021 recurrent budget allocation and asked for an additional P2,153,691,190.00 “to augment and cover COVID-19 budget estimates.” This followed a request made to the Ministry of Finance on 6th April 2020 by the then Health Permanent Secretary Solomon Sekwakwa. Sunday Standard will next week run a detailed report on the Ministry of Health Covid-19 budget estimate.

Following reports that that the Ministry’s Covid-19 budget estimates had been inflated the Office of the President two months ago started a shakeup of the government enclave in an attempt to rein in the COVID-19 procurement systems failures and alleged corruption.

After sacking the Ministry of Health and Wellness Permanent Secretary and Deputy Permanent Secretary in May, The Office of the President then disbanded the ministry’s procurement unit following reports of possible collusion with Tenderpreneurs who were taking advantage of the coronavirus panic to overcharge and cheat government.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) was also called in to investigate reports of corruption in the COVID-19 procurement.

The situation was not helped by the Covid-19 test kits procurement scandal which forced government to change its initial strategy to fight and contain the pandemic.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that President Masisi and the DCEC sprang into action after COVID19 Task Force Coordinator Dr. Kereng Masupu complained that the procurement sleaze was undermining efforts to contain the pandemic.

This was after Botswana was forced to fight the COVID-19 pandemic “blindfolded” after plans to commence community testing on April 20th collapsed because government did not have enough testing kits.

This was almost three months after the Ministry of health commissioned two companies to supply testing kits which they sourced from India and China.

A fortnight into Botswana’s first national lockdown, the Ministry of Health and Wellness announced plans to conduct mass community testing alongside contact tracing testing.

The COVID-19 Task team however made an about-turn and opted for contact tracing – the use of location data to identify who an infected individual may have come into contact with and infected. The Ministry revealed that it has conducted 14 283 laboratory tests through the contact tracing programme. This is less than 1% of Botswana’s population and is unlikely to give a true indication of the disease penetration.

As a result of the testing kits procurement mess, Botswana found itself in a situation that the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned against.

After belatedly declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that there was only one way that countries could deal with the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe: “Test, test, test.” He warned countries that they couldn’t “fight a fire blindfolded.” 

The Covid-19 Task Force had initially planned to commence community testing for COVID-19 by April 20th. Former Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Moses Keetile and Director of Health Services, Dr Malaki Tshipayagae, issued statements mind April that they had collaborated with the University of Botswana, National Strategy Office, Statistics Botswana and Botswana-Harvard Partnership to conduct the tests. The testing which were to be done at selected households in greater Gaborone, greater Francistown, Gantsi, Ngamiland and Chobe areas were scheduled to run for 14 days. A total of 20,000 tests were to be done.

Unconfirmed report revealed that the 20 000 test which were scheduled for 14 days were planned around the 20 000 testing kits which had been donated by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation.

The plan however meant there would be no testing kits to do contact trace testing.

Hardly a week after Keetile and Tshipayagae, issued statements that the COVID-19 Task Force would conduct community testing and contact trace testing concurrently, Coordinator of the COVID-19 Task Force announced a new and revised plan at a press conference. He explained that due to limited resources, they were unable to do community testing.


Read this week's paper