SANDF obscured procurement processes in obtaining Cuban Covid-19 drug – PP finds

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SANDF army generals. Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu
SANDF army generals. Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu


The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) did not follow due process to acquire unauthorised drugs from Cuba that cost the state about R35 million.

The funds were used to purchase Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B, a drug banned in the treatment of Covid-19 symptoms.

The SANDF spent R200 million in procuring the drug on top of the R35 million that was already paid for 130 doses. The SANDF was preparing to make an additional payment of R182 million for a consignment that had already been delivered.

A complaint by the DA Shadow Minister of Defence and MP, Kobus Marias, prompted the Public Protector’s investigation.

Addressing the media on Friday, Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka said:

The Public Protector found that the department of defence did not follow a proper process when procuring the drug. The department procured the drug from the Cuban government on a bilateral agreement signed on January 10 2012 concerning defence relationships established between the South African and Cuban governments.

READ: Chaos plagues SA National Defence Force 

Gcaleka added that in procuring the drug, senior SANDF officials confirmed they did not comply with South African legal prescripts regulating the public procurement of goods and services other than relying on the bilateral agreement.

“However, the department of defence contravened the said bilateral agreement, which they claimed to have relied on to procure the drug because article one clearly states that the bilateral agreement is subject to each country’s domestic laws and financial constraints.”

The drug procured was not registered to treat Covid-19 in South Africa. SANDF officials proceeded to procure the drug, which arrived in the country on April 27 2020, prior to them applying for registration with the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

The department returned the drug to Cuba upon Sahpra’s instruction on November 3 2021, which indicated that if they failed to do so, the batches would be confiscated and destroyed.

“SANDF reported to Sahpra that the unregistered medication was returned to Cuba on January 20 2022. The conduct of the department of defence in procuring the drug from Cuba constitutes improper conduct as envisaged in the Constitution and maladministration as stipulated in the Public Protector Act.”

Public Protector’s recommendations

To remedy the improper conduct, Gcaleka made the following recommendations:

1. President Cyril Ramaphosa and the minister of defence, Thandi Modise, must take cognisance of the findings of maladministration and improper conduct mentioned in the report;

2. The secretariat of defence, Gladys Sonto Kudjoe, must take note of the findings and ensure the accounting officer issue a directive that any further procurement by the department of defence is in line with the Constitution and all applicable provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, relevant treasury regulations and the SANDF supply chain management policies;

3. The secretariat should also ensure strict compliance with all these prescripts and enforce adherence to effectively and efficiently manage all revenue expenditure and liabilities;

4. Within 60 days from the issuance of the report, the secretariat should also initiate an investigation and take appropriate action against the SANDF officials involved in the irregular procurement of the drug from Cuba.

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