With more questions being raised about government’s plan on Covid-19 vaccines, Corruption Watch says it has written to Treasury about its concerns over the threat of corruption in the procurement and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
The non-profit organisation posed questions to Treasury related to transparency in the procurement of vaccines from manufacturers globally as well as on oversight, transportation, storage and the distribution of the vaccines across the country.
It said it did this due to the corruption scandals that rocked the country last year involving the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“South Africa cannot afford another procurement fiasco akin to that which characterised the purchase of personal protective equipment,” said executive director of Corruption Watch, David Lewis, on Thursday. “It massively reduced the last vestiges of public trust in government at precisely the moment when it is necessary for government and the public to work together.”
This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the establishment of inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to assist with implementation of the country’s vaccines programme, which will be chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza. But this move has been criticised by some political parties including the DA and ActionSA, arguing that Mabuza isn’t the right man for the job.
Government plans to inoculate 1.25 million healthcare workers in the first phase of its vaccine programme, which is expected to begin in February. It has also set a target of vaccinating 65% of South Africa’s population (40 million citizens) in order to achieve population immunity.
Corruption Watch said it received a response from Treasury this week in which the department laid out aspects of the vaccine procurement plan and measures already put in place to address some of the corruption risks.
Treasury revealed to the organisation that the Department of Health had applied for deviation from procurement processes for the transport, storage and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Auditor-General South Africa would also be involved in oversight of the use of taxpayers’ monies to procure the vaccines.
The organisation said it also appreciated the transparency shown regarding the agreements drawn up with the UN’s Covax Facility, the Serum Institute of India and the donation from the Solidarity Fund.
However, Corruption Watch said Treasury did not address all of its concerns regarding the planned deviations from procurement processes in the purchase of vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
It said it would also push for the Department of Health to place the requests for proposals and contracts, as well as the items that will be subject to non-disclosure agreements, in the public domain.
“In terms of contracts, Corruption Watch is concerned that the six-month period already agreed on might not be long enough for complete vaccine roll-out, given the scale of the pandemic in South Africa. If and when the contracts will have to be extended, this will entail further deviations from the current special procurement arrangements, thus making the process vulnerable to potential corruption.
“While CW appreciates that there is one sole purchaser – the Department of Health – which facilitates carrying out oversight, the roles within the oversight function are not clearly defined, nor is the action plan explained in such detail that all stakeholders can understand it for effective implementation.”