A group of civil society organizations have labeled Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya’s response to revelations of gross theft of medicines at Medical Stores as arrogant and casual.
The CSO’s who held a press briefing on Friday to react to Dr Chilufya’s statement in which he described the Global Funds findings as “old news” said the Health Minister’s arrogance over the issue is worrying.
The CSO leaders have since appealed to President Edgar Lungu to fire Dr Chilufya in order to safeguard the country’s image which they says is being dented by scandals such as the Global Fund’s.
“We take note of the lengthy statement given by the minister of health to the media in response to this matter, but the explanations are not sufficient. It is clear that the Ministry of Health was negligent in its duty to prudently manage resources entrusted to it for the Zambian people,” they said in a joint statement.
“Why must you parade the media and tell them that the president is categorical and clear on the fight against theft when we are receiving scandal after scandal, report after report and nothing is being done?” They questioned.
They added, “If the ministers are not firing their negligent controlling officers, we urge the president to fire those ministers whose ministries are being cited for mischief in order to assert that he indeed will not tolerate theft. It is amazing that before people have even finished reading one disheartening report about public resource mismanagement, another report is out.”
Below is the full statement
TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL ZAMBIA, ACTION AID ZAMBIA AND OTHER CSOs CONCERNED ABOUT THE IMAGE DAMAGING REPORT FROM GLOBAL FUND AND COUNSELS GOVERNMENT TO TAKE CHARGE OF THE INVESTIGATIVE REPORT AND ADDRESS THEIR FINDINGS
Transparency International Zambia, Action Aid Zambia and other CSOs in Zambia are deeply saddened by the image damaging Global fund’s investigation report which unearthed theft of drugs and other medical products as well as misdirection of over $ 1.06 million meant to better the health system of Zambia.
The CSOs are particularly disappointed that the country seems to be going backwards and not forward when it comes to issues of transparency and accountability in the public sector.
It is very evident from the report findings that the Ministry of Health did not do due diligence in terms of safe guarding the medical supplies donated to the Zambian government.
As organisations that attach great importance to accountability in public resource management, especially those meant for the social sectors, we are more concerned because this particular issue is bordering on the health of citizens of this country.
We feel concerned that at the point when donor support is dwindling, our public institutions are demonstrating such levels of irresponsibility. We are alive to the fact that such a report is not only damaging to the country’s image, but also confirms that there no serious mechanisms put in place by the current government to fight the pilfering of public resources by civil servants.
We take note of the lengthy statement given by the minister of health to the media in response to this matter, but the explanations are not sufficient. It is clear that the Ministry of Health was negligent in its duty to prudently manage resources entrusted to it for the Zambian people.
Why must you parade the media and tell them that the president is categorical and clear on the fight against theft when we are receiving scandal after scandal, report after report and nothing is being done? If the ministers are not firing their negligent controlling officers, we urge the president to fire those ministers whose ministries are being cited for mischief in order to assert that he indeed will not tolerate theft. It is amazing that before people have even finished reading one disheartening report about public resource mismanagement, another report is out. It is barely a couple of days ago when we received the Auditor General’s report on Local Authorities which revealed that over 14 million kwacha of Constituency Development Funds (CDF) was misapplied. Before that there was yet another Auditor General’s report on Parastatals which was equally damning. Before that we had the main 2016 Auditor General’s report with yet another gloomy picture for the Zambians. Amidst all that we have the Mukula tree scandal, $42million fire trucks, $ 288,000 ambulance purchase scandal, the $1.2 billion dual courage way. What is going on in this country?
Where is the so called “working government”? Because as CSOs we are not seeing any work being done where safeguarding public resources is concerned, other than the rhetorical speeches we are subjected to. We should mention here that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is responsible for safeguarding the assets, investments, reputation and sustainability of the Global Fund by ensuring that it takes the right action to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Through audits, investigations and advisory work, it promotes good practice, reduces risk and reports fully and transparently on abuse.
It is our concerted view that government should have taken a keen interest in the 2017 Audit findings and acted on them immediately. It is not enough for the government to issue a statement seeking redress by shifting the blame on the supply chain.
The misuse of global funds as outlined in the 2018 investigations report by the Global Fund where HIV test kits were stolen is worth a staggering US$416,379. This is a clear lack of concern among the duty bearers that have been tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the resources meant for Zambian citizens.
This weakness in internal controls in the delivery process of medical supplies is worrying and has for a number of years had a negative impact on service delivery in the health sector especially to the rural parts of the country.
It is only true that discussion around systems and procedures to safeguard the interests of the nation are not new. The civil society organisations have been calling for government to tighten regulations around the management of national resources and this is not different.
We as CSOs have on a number of occasions advised government to ensure that there is a regulatory framework that is enforceable and has good sanctioning environment, one which punishes issues of mismanagement and gross negligence around national resource management in whatever form.
Furthermore we are dismayed that this is happening when we have a Minister of Health who is a medical practitioner and has two Permanent Secretaries to provide checks and balances. They are further charged with the responsibility of ensuring that all systems and procedures in the Ministry of Health and other partners such as Medical Stores Limited are functioning well.
This situation begs the question, “if the Ministry of Health can allow over $4miilion worth of expired drugs what other anomalies has the ministry kept from the Zambian people?’.
Mind you this is the same ministry which had another huge scandal of theft of donor funds a couple of years ago. There are a lot of mechanisms that government can put in place in the ministry of health and in particular Medical stores to ensure that our people’s health resources are safe guarded.
Our appeal goes to the President of this country Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu to take responsibility of what is happening in his government and be more responsible and safe guard tax payer’s money. The easiest short term measure for the president is to fire erring ministers and permanent secretaries before we as a country, lose the little faith that our cooperating partners have in us.
We seriously cannot be losing so much money at the expense of a selfish few.
The investigation identified significant unexplained stock losses of Global Fund-financed pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical health products totaling US$1, 064,788 delivered to Medical Stores Limited between 2014 and 2016.
Really such things shouldn’t be happening if we have a listening government.
Our hope is that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) under global fund will work closely with our investigative wings to bring all culprits to book and we hope to see massive dismissals and weeding of the bad seed from medical stores limited.
We also urge government to address the issues highlighted in the report with the utmost urgency it deserves.
The people of Zambia will not be hoodwinked into paying for costs to the nation that could clearly have been avoided if systems and procedures were in place.
Further, one wonders why the President and the Ministry of Health has been silent on this issue even after the Audit report in 2017 was presented to the Ministry of Health.
This will affect a lot of issues including the implementation of the National Health Insurance Bill. It will bring into question the issue of compliance as there has been misuse tax payers’ money and donor funds by allowing this to happen.
The president during his address to the national assembly is on record urging the nation to uphold the values of morality and ethics but this scandal demonstrates that the government of the day does not walk the talk.
As such we are calling on the Head of State to take action against his Minister and Permanent Secretaries for negligence and he must not hesitate to take punitive measures against any erring other officer.
Wesley Chibamba-TIZ Executive Director Nalucha Ziba-Action Aid Executive Director Patrick Kryticous Nshindano-CSPR Executive Director
Lewis Mwape-ZCSD Executive Director
Isaac Mwaipopo-CTPD Executive Director Laura Miti-ACA Executive Director
Chenai Mukumba-CUTS National Coordinator