PROMINENT businessman Valden Findlay says the controversial Covid drugs at the centre of a vaccines import scandal were donated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
But when approached by Makanday to confirm the donation, the UAE has opted to remain mute.
The vaccines, manufactured by Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries in the United Arab Emirates, were imported by Findlay’s company, Chrismar Earthmoving Equipment.
The row over Findlay’s vaccines is the latest scandal to hit Zambia’s health ministry following the seizure and destruction of 10,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine by the medicines and regulatory authority.
Critics allege that the drugs seizure was part of an elaborate illegal scheme to funnel Ministry of Health supply contracts by former ruling Patriotic Front surrogate companies. They say that it was through such criminal acts that the former ruling party succeeded in aiding the destruction of the pharmaceutical industry.
Recently, the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) revealed that a consignment of Covid-19 Hayat-Vax vaccines valued at US$ 150,000 was “seized and destroyed”. The consignment was equivalent to 10,000 doses.
The authority said in a statement that the vaccine was not registered or authorised by ZAMRA for use on the Zambian market and that it is not listed under the World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing procedure among some of the reasons for the seizure and destruction.
“The importer did not have a pharmaceutical licence to sell, store, distribute or supply; and the importer did not have an import permit to authorize importation,” said ZAMRA.
Chrismar, the company at the centre of the controversy, is owned by businessman Valden Findley, a close ally of former president Lungu. According to company registration records, its other director is Dessislava Findlay, a Bulgarian national.
The company was registered in 2015 and its business is in construction of buildings. It is not clear how the company got involved in supplying medicine in the health sector.
There is, however, a link between Mr Lungu’s seven-year stay in office and the company’s existence. Mr Lungu took office on 25 January 2015 to complete late president Michael Sata’s term and was re-elected in 2016.
Mr Findlay told MakanDay, the vaccine was a donation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government.
“The only reason they (vaccine) were kept at the warehouses at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport is because Chrismar Earthmoving Equipment was trying to get clearance from Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA),” he said in a telephone interview.
“It is not a strange vaccine. The same vaccine was donated to Zimbabwe by the Abu Dhabi government. It was a donation. I have no intensions of selling them. It was a pure donation, and it is not a fake vaccine,” he added.
Both the UAE government and the manufacturer were asked for comment, but they have not responded to the emailed queries.
The vaccine, whose name Hayat means ‘life’ in Arabic and is identical to the Sinopharm vaccine from China, is the first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine in the Gulf region.
It is manufactured by a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s G42 and Sinopharm.
However, Findlay’s explanation that the drugs were a UAE government donation prompt other questions. For instance, why would the UAE government cosign a drugs donation to a private Zambian company, and not to the relevant Zambian Health Ministry department?
While the government is already grappling with a US$150 million drug debt it owes suppliers, sources within government say there is nothing in the payment pipeline for additional medicines supplied by government.
A source familiar with the industry told MakanDay that under President Edgar Lungu’s rule there was no planning for procurement of medicine and medical supplies.
“Everything was emergency supplies,” he said. “Buying from every Jim and Jack on the street, it’s just a mess.”
The Ministry of Health has distanced itself from the illegal consignment. Health Permanent Secretary, Dr Kennedy Malama said in a statement: “At no time did the Ministry of Health undertake any tendering process for procurement of vaccines at which Chrismar Earthmoving Equipment was selected.”
“The Ministry of Health re-affirms its commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability in the acquisition, receipt and distribution of quality, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” he added.
In February this year, Zambia’s drugs procurement system slid deeper into chaos and confusion with the dismissal of the head of medical stores, Chikuta Mbewe, following the sacking of the health minister and his permanent secretary a month earlier.
Mr Lungu fired the former health minister, Dr Chitalu Chilufya, and the permanent secretary for health, Akakulubelwa Mulalelo, following reports that the health ministry gave a contract worth US$17-million of public money to an unknown company, Honey Bee for health supplies.
Last year, the government transferred procurement of drugs from the traditional supplier, Missionpharma to Honey Bee Pharmacy.
It is understood that the procurement shift was prompted by government’s inability to settle rising debt owed to Missionpharma.
Additional Reporting by Linda Soko Tembo and Gabriella Nyambe