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Covid-19 drugs supply tender scandal erupts in Zimbabwe

July 07th, 2020
topic:Transparency and Corruption
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Zimbabwe
tags:Coronavirus, corruption, COVID-19, democracy, ZANU-PF party

On June 5, senior members of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party called for a press conference to denounce veteran journalist and film maker Hopewell Chin’ono for allegedly “spreading falsehoods” about corruption in the supply of drugs and other medical consumables required in the country’s fight against the novel Corona (Covid-19) virus.

“ZANU-PF has noted with concern the systematic well-choreographed and sponsored attacks on the integrity of the first family by unscrupulous characters such as Hopewell Chin’ono, this time targeting the President’s son (Collins),” fumed the party’s spokesman, Patrick Chinamasa, at the party’s headquarters in the capital Harare.

Face masks for $28

Chin’ono, a New York Times correspondent and an anti-corruption activist, had picked and amplified a story that appeared in an online publication which revealed that the government was paying inflated prices that included $28 for each disposable face mask to a shadowy company with links to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family.

It was these embarrassing revelations that angered the ruling elite resulting in threats to Chin’ono.

“My life is now in danger after ZANU-PF attacked me personally through their spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa,” Chin’ono said after threats. “I am only a detractor of corruption…I am a trained journalist, if I have said something that is not true, legal remedies are there. I will not be cowed by fear.”

Irrefutable documentary evidence

The strong-worded denials and threats by the senior ruling party and government officials only served to add fuel to the fire. True to his word, Chin’ono started churning irrefutable documentary evidence and pictures to back his claims.

The scandal, which is now known as COVID-gate, has for weeks now roiled the country and played out on social media, where journalists and activists exposed how the Health ministry officials were arm-twisted to choose a shelf company, Drax International, to supply medical essentials to the government at inflated prices. Documentary evidence now in public domain show that despite the strident denials, the government had awarded a US$60 million Covid-19 supply contract to Drax International without going to public tender.

Addresses of some of the firms that were secretly awarded tenders to supply PPEs and other essentials have proved to be false and even some countries from which the non-existent supplies were said to be sourced have denied ever exporting any such goods, raising a lot of question about the integrity of those spearheading the fight against this global pandemic. The cost of most of these PPEs is said to be inflated upto six folds, with some of the material recorded as having been supplied through these companies having actually been donated by development partners.

Outrage and embarrassment

The inflated invoices triggered sustained public outrage forcing the government, which had initially denied that payments had been made, to take action. A parallel Interpol investigation, triggered after US$2 million was paid to the company’s newly opened account in Hungary, proved as false the government claims that no payment had been made. To add embarrassment to this scandal, Drax, initially said to be registered in Switzerland, then in the United Arab Emirates, seems to be a fraud orchestrated by Delish Nguwaya, a ‘businessman’ with close links to the first family who has a record of extortion, armed robbery, cocaine possession and impersonation of a law enforcement agent.

Contracts cancelled

The government cancelled the contracts following public uproar. One of President Mnangagwa’s sons, Collins, was forced to issue a statement denying any links to the company after pictures emerged of Nguwaya enjoying the company of the president and his wife and sons at several events.

Collins and Nguwaya are also key suspects in another $1 million PPEs case, while the president’s top bodyguard, Valdano Brown, had won lucrative contracts to supply Covid-19 equipment to the ministry of Health without going through a competitive bidding process. 

Two other entities that allegedly belong to a group of firms connected to the first family had also scored contracts with the government in the middle of the on-going Covid-19 crisis. 

Arrests made

Nguwaya, and some top officials of the national drugs procurement agency were arrested and charged with “misrepresentation” among other things. He is accused of lying in saying his company was a drugs manufacturing company based in Switzerland, “whereas it was merely a consulting company with no experience in the manufacture of drug and medical products,” according to the charge sheet.

Next to be arrested as public pressure mounted, was Health minister, Obadiah Moyo, himself a dubious character, for his role in this scandal, before he was released on bail. Moyo, a former night-club disk jockey has had difficulties endearing himself to the country’s medical professionals and developments partners having failed to shrug off charges of being an academic and medical impostor, after being exposed as having masqueraded as a medical doctor for decades when he is a mere laboratory technician.

Global interest

The unfolding scandal is now subject of an investigation by Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative networks, media and journalists operating in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus region, Central Asia and Central America, with reporters working on this across the global to expose corruption and other forms of wrongdoing in high places.

Threats cause for concern

Some human rights organisations have expressed concerns over the way people exposing corruption are treated as criminals themselves by authorities in Zimbabwe.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also shared Chin’ono’s fears.

“Zimbabwe’s record against perceived critics, including journalists exposing graft is well documented. This is dangerous talk. The potential consequences cannot be ignored,” CPJ said.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Zimbabwe
Chin’ono, a New York Times correspondent and an anti-corruption activist, had picked and amplified a story that appeared in an online publication which revealed that the government was paying inflated prices that included $28 for each disposable face mask to a shadowy company with links to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family.
The scandal, which is now known as COVID-gate, has for weeks now roiled the country and played out on social media.
The unfolding scandal is now subject of an investigation by Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative networks, media and journalists operating in Eastern Europe.