SANDF's Cuban Covid-19 drug deal: 'Procurement processes were rubbished', says new defence minister

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Processes were ignored in purchasing Covid-19 drugs from Cuba.
Processes were ignored in purchasing Covid-19 drugs from Cuba.
Gustavo Fring, Pexels
  • Thandi Modise says heads will roll over the SANDF's dodgy Cuban Covid-19 drug purchase.
  • She said it was clear all procurement processes were ignored.
  • It was her first briefing to Parliament as a Cabinet minister.

Newly appointed Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise warned her army generals that heads will roll over the SANDF's controversial purchase of unregistered Cuban Covid-19 drugs, worth over R200 million.

In her first briefing to Parliament as a Cabinet minister on Wednesday, Modise said it was clear all procurement processes were ignored when the deal took place.

"Whether the efficacy is good or not is beside the point. The point here is who authorised this outside the health department. The procurement process must be followed. I can't wake up tomorrow and say I want a helicopter and it is procured.

READ | SANDF medical boss: Zuma's life is at 'significant risk', will take 6 months to treat

"There are processes that must be respected. There is no way that heads are not going to roll. Procurement processes were rubbished. We not going to excuse things, because we will be setting a bad precedent," Modise said.

Eyebrows were raised when the SANDF spent nearly R215 million to import Heberon Alpha R 2B, manufactured by a Cuban-Chinese company, which is believed to be effective in the fight against the coronavirus.

However, the drug is not registered with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

Modise said whichever way the situation was looked at, there were serious procurement problems.

She said: "Quite clearly, without even having full facts, the Auditor-General is going to have issues with this procurement. The only time the defence department does not follow the normal route of procurement is in strategic issues.

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"The main question that has been, ever since I became acquainted with this matter, was where the decision was taken. Why was that decision taken? How was the procurement done? Who was responsible for signing off? Those, for me, are the areas the task team must answer."

She said whether Sahpra finds that the drug is fine, or whatever else, is beside the issue.

"It is how it was procured and how it was brought into this country. It is how the money was used. You narrow it done - and, once we have dealt with that matter, then obviously the other can come in and say whatever," she added.

READ | Gauteng health official who was witness in PPE corruption case killed

Modise said South Africa's relationship with Cuba should not be damaged because the defence department's conduct was outside the normal processes. 

In March, then defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula appointed a three-person task team to investigate how a shipment of Heberon Alpha R 2B was imported, given that it was not approved for use in South Africa.

The task team was led by Zola Ngcakani, the former Inspector-General of Intelligence.

According to Mapisa-Nqakula, an investigation into the matter is expected to be completed this month.

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