Zimbabwe deputy health minister Mangwiro faces arrest in US$5.6m Covid-19 scandal

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Graft accused … Deputy health minister John Mangwiro could face criminal charges for corruption

 Deputy health minister John Mangwiro leaned on NatPharm to award a US$5.6 million Covid-19 tender to a company in which he had a personal interest, a bombshell investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) has revealed.

NatPharm blocked the company – Young Health Care Limited – from getting the tender to supply vital Covid-19 materials even after the company reduced its inflated quote by a staggering US$2.6 million.

ZACC has recommended that Mangwiro, a personal physician of new health minister and vice president Constantino Chiwenga, be investigated and prosecuted for criminal abuse of office.

“The actions of the deputy minister signal a personal interest in the tender, and this should have prompted him to declare his interest,” a damning internal ZACC memo obtained by ZimLive concluded after a review of tender NAT TCB FWWK 04/2020 for the supply of laboratory equipment, reagents and consumables for Covid-19 to NatPharm, the state-owned pharmaceutical firm.

The latest revelations come after a months-long investigation by ZimLive revealed rampant corruption in the awarding of Covid-19 tenders by the health ministry, culminating in the arrest and sacking of health minister Obadiah Moyo in June.

Our investigation also led to the arrests of three NatPharm executives who awarded tenders worth US$60 million to Drax International, a company which was not on a register of approved government suppliers managed by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ).

The ZACC investigation, carried out between August 31 and September 4, reveals that Dr Gibson Mhlanga, then the acting health secretary, wrote to NatPharm on July 15, 2020, instructing the company to “make direct procurements of supplies from Young Health Care.” ZACC said this was in violation of PRAZ Circular 1 of 2020 which decrees that “only PRAZ-listed suppliers are sources of Covid-19 supplies.”

“Initial quotation by Young Health Care for supply of commodities under direct procurement, where prices quoted by Young Heath Care Limited were exorbitant amounted to US$5.6 million, which was coincidentally the same amount that was in the ministry coffers, suggesting that the company had inside information,” ZACC says.

Mhlanga said on Saturday: “Sorry I can’t comment at this stage.”

ZACC says after NatPharm insisted on a competitive bidding process, Mangwiro – a medical doctor appointed to deputy minister in September 2018 – demanded that the tender should be delayed to allow Young Health Care to register with PRAZ. The delay impeded the procurement of vital medical supplies needed by front-line health workers and patients.

“When NatPharm insisted on competitive bidding, Young Health Care Limited subsequently submitted a bid price of US$3.6 million for the same items. This saw a reduction of 36 percent in the price,” ZACC’s report says.

ZACC says when the emergency 48-hour tender was finally floated on August 5 and closed on August 7, 22 bidders including Young Health Care Limited made bids.

Young Health Care, according to the ZACC probe, missed out on the tender. ZACC, citing the acting NatPharm managing director Zealous Nyabadza, says this infuriated Mangwiro who summoned the company’s top managers late at night “to explain why the tender was not awarded to Young Health Care Limited.”

“The deputy minister also demanded that a purchase order be issued that same night. The adjudication team was picked from their homes around 10PM and were interrogated by Mangwiro until the early hours of the following day. The deputy minister threatened the team with dismissal for failing to award Young Health Care the contracts,” the investigators reported.

ZACC also found that Young Health Care had also been given a purchase order by NatPharm for nucleic acid, purification machines, transport media and reagents. After delivering on two of the four purification machines and about six percent of the other two orders, the company reportedly requested an advance “contrary to the terms and conditions of the contract signed with NatPharm, which stipulates that payment should be made seven days after delivery.”

The equipment received by NatPharm was worth US$124,630.40.

Mangwiro, ZACC charges, “insisted on pre-payment and tasked the technical team from NatPharm procurement to visit Young Health Care Limited in their country office and verify available stock in order to compel the NatPharm acting MD to make a prepayment to Young Health Care Limited.”

The verification team, it is reported, found that items amounting to US$127,643.20 were in stock instead of the US$922,000 requested for pre-payment.

The graft body says Mangwiro’s alleged actions “violated the evaluation process since the technical team did not have the mandate to carry out the verification of supplies.”

Nyabadza, the report adds, wrote to the health ministry permanent secretary Jasper Chimedza on August 26 “informing him of the pre-payment issue and seeking guidance on how to proceed”, but received no reply “prompting him to decline taking Mangwiro’s instruction to pre-pay Young Health Care.”

“Given the extent to which the deputy minister was involved in the said tender process, indications are that he was acting on his own capacity and not on behalf of the ministry… The conduct of the deputy minister during this tender process warrants further investigations for criminal abuse of office for possible violation of Section 174 of the Criminal Law Codification Act [Chapter9:23],” the ZACC investigators said.

“Apart from this provision, further investigations should be conducted to ascertain possible violation of Section 14 of the Public Finance Management Act [Chapter22:19] by the deputy minister through giving ministerial directives having financial implications when he demanded prepayment of undelivered goods to Young Health Care. There is need for further investigations into the possible violation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] as the conduct of the Deputy Minister might have compromised the independence of NatPharm as a procurement entity.”

ZimLive asked Mangwiro to respond to the ZACC allegations but he had not done so at the time of publication.

An associate of the minister made an unsolicited call to this reporter, however, and claimed the allegations were a “complete fabrication”.

“You’re being used,” the associate charged, while insisting that Mangwiro was being targeted by allies of President Emmerson Mnangagwa in an internal tussle for the control of Zanu PF pitting the 78-year-old with his deputy, Chiwenga.

“They want Chiwenga to fail at that ministry. Make no mistake, the real target of these manoeuvres is Chiwenga but they’re too cowardly to confront him.”

Mangwiro travelled with Chiwenga to China last year, spending several months with the former army commander as he received treatment for an undisclosed ailment.

When Moyo was sacked in June, many expected Mangwiro to be promoted to a full minister, but ZimLive has heard from authoritative sources that Mnangagwa balked at the idea.

One source said Chiwenga advised Mnangagwa to promote Mangwiro, and when he refused, the vice president said he would take the position himself, surprising the Zanu PF leader who was forced to accept.

Zanu PF officials insist there is no rift between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, who conspired in November 2017 to stage a military coup that ousted the late former President Robert Mugabe.

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