Monday, June 1, 2020

Tenderpreneurs looting COVID-19 coffers

Government is saddled with a multi-million Pula testing kits bill and no testing kits to show for it, as tenderpreneurs take advantage of the COVID-19 panic to overcharge and underdeliver. Plans by the COVID-19 Task Force to commence community testing on April 20th collapsed because government does not have testing kits.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that January 2020, government commissioned two companies Pula Rich Investments and Mileage Air (Pty) Ltd to supply testing kits which they sourced from India and China. It has further emerged that the two suppliers inflated prices by more than 1000%. While their combined bill to government for the testing kits was P80 million, the actual costs of the testing kits was P4.8 million, Sunday Standard investigations have revealed. At the time of going to press, government had already generated a P80 million purchase order, but curiously the testing kits had not been delivered.

Investigations have revealed that the Ministry of Health and Wellness awarded the P80 million tender to the two companies although they did not qualify. Pula Rich Pty (Ltd) whose sole director is Lucas Gaopalelwe was only incorporated on 13th November 2019, hardly two months before it was awarded the lucrative tender. Mileage Air (Pty) Ltd whose directors are Gengxu Nan and Zhengping Wu on the other hand is in tax arrears and did not have a tax clearance certificate at the time it was awarded the tender.

With the authority to adjudicate and award COVID-19 tenders devolved from the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) to Permanent Secretaries, the who process happened under former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Solomon Sekwakwa’s watch.It is understood this was one of the issues that cost him his job. Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the situation is so critical that had it not been for the testing kits donated by The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation, Botswana would be unable even to carry out contact trace testing. Botswana was fortunate that the testing kits from Jack Ma Foundation arrived before the country registered its first COVID-19 case.

It is understood that government has now decided to source the testing kits directly from suppliers without going through middlemen.After Botswana registered its first few cases which coincided with a number of local transmissions, the COVID-19 Task Force decided to conduct community testing, parallel to the contact trace testing.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 have 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.At the time of going to press, Dr Masupu had not responded to a Sunday Standard questionnaire.

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