Following the findings made by the Auditor General (AG) and the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) set up to investigate the Department of Defence and the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) on the procurement of the Cuban drug, Hebron, Minister Thandi Modise should now proceed with the laying of criminal charges against all those implicated.
During her first appearance before the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans in August, Minister Modise made a commitment to crack the whip on those responsible for the irregular procurement of Hebron. She told the Committee that “There is no way that heads are not going to roll. Procurement systems were ruined”.
The moment of truth has come for the Minister to take decisive action and hold offending parties accountable for the deliberate breach of procurement and supply chain laws.
According to the AG and the MTT, DoD and SANDF members not only went ahead with the procurement of Hebron without approval from the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), they flouted the Regulations for the Medicines and Related Substances Act and procurement regulations as provided for in the Public Finance Management Act.
The AG and the MTT reports concluded that there was:
- Inadequate planning in the procurement of Hebron resulting in an open-ended contract;
- No evidence of SAHPRA approval prior to importation of Hebron;
- Material irregularity on the failure to comply with the Medicines and Related Substances Act;
- Irregular expenditure of R2.1 billion, including R33 million for the procurement of the Interferon from Cuba without approval from SAHPRA, resulting in a qualified audit opinion; and
- A breach of the Regulations for the Medicines and Related Substances Act as a result of the importation of a drug through an undesignated port of entry.
In addressing the material irregularity, the AG recommended that the Accounting Officer in the Department of Defence should determine the officials responsible for procuring the drug without regulatory approval, and take the necessary disciplinary action which may include liability for the losses incurred.
The SANDF should not only return the Hebron vials that are still in storage, but they should also stop any further payments to the Cubans and cancel any open-ended contracts that may still be active. South Africans should not be held to ransom by claims that an abrupt end to the contract may result in a political fallout with the Cubans. We are a country governed by law and public expenditure is not predicated on political expediency.