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Projections ... Finance minister Mthuli Ncube wore a face shield while making mid-term budget statement in Parliament on Thursday

Opinion

Covid-19 funds accountability needed

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FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube said on Thursday during his mid-term fiscal policy review statement presentation to date Zimbabwe has spent US$93.2 million on procurement of 11.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses and 7.2 million syringes, almost exclusively from China.

So far there has been deliveries of 5.5 million doses and 5.2 million syringes.

Of the 11.8 million doses Zimbabwe has secured, 11.7 million of those shots are from China: Sinovac (6.2 million doses); Sinopharm (five million) and Sinopharm (500 000, donation from China). There is also Covaxine (35 000, donation from India); and Sputnik V (50 000, donation from Russia).

The country got 1.2 million of the syringes from China Pharmaceutical Foreign Trade Corporation, three million from Sinopharm and one million from Sinovac.

“The country has embarked on a mass vaccination campaign as a long-term solution to save lives and livelihoods,” Ncube said. “The objective is to target herd immunity of 60% of the country’s population with 100 million having been set aside for the purpose. Progress towards the desired 60% (herd immunity) will require mobilisation of additional resources for the procurement of more vaccines, over and above the US$100 million resource envelope.”

The Covid-19 pandemic requires unprecedented public sector interventions in our societies and economies. To safeguard both lives and livelihoods, governments had to react quickly, and still have to do so, under significant pressure to protect citizens from the worst impacts of the pandemic.

Due to the scale and nature of the crisis, much of the spending occurred through expeditated and fast-track processes. As a result, the risks of corruption, mismanagement and waste were heightened.

Delivering large-scale Covid-19 vaccination programmes poses significant challenges for governments and raises troubling questions around global inequality and pharmaceutical corporate greed.

Wider concerns around transparency and accountability have also been raised in Zimbabwe on how spending actually occurred – who benefitted from this spending and who got what precisely?

This is important as we have already seen corruption in the procurement and supplies of Covid-19 requirements.

The US$60 million Delish Nguwaya and US$5.6 million Health deputy minister John Mangwiro Covid-19 supply scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. There is certainly much corruption happening on Covid-19 budgets and expenditures.

That is why it  is important for Ncube to publish a breakdown of all the Covid-19 outlays; the names of the suppliers, those given contracts to supply or the middlemen – companies and their beneficial owners, the pricing and margins, and how the supplies were distributed, when and where.

Basically, we need to know what happened, when, where, why and how in relation to Covid-19 public expenditures. Public funds must always be accounted for.

This is important because procurement of goods and services in the health sector can be highly vulnerable to mismanagement by public officials.

Apart from outright corruption relating to the acquisition of defective material or theft in the distribution or procurement of goods and services, there are several other problems that must be combated, for instance  hidden contracts, overpricing and collusion.

Hence government should publish all public contracts; use open and competitive bidding, and employ emergency non-competitive processes only when followed by adequate forms of control, oversight, auditing and reporting scrutinising such  deals; publish beneficial ownership information of companies that are awarded contracts; empower the anti-corruption and law enforcement bodies to deal Covid-19 issues robustly, and foster cooperation among government, business and civil society on matters related to transparency of public finances and the delivery of goods and services to address the pandemic.

This is critical given brazen Covid-19 corruption in the country and elsewhere around the world, including among big pharmaceutical giants who are perpetrating grand heists on the poor by overpricing vaccines, while refusing to share the science and technology involved when in the first place they used public funds to do research and find breakthroughs.

Vaccines should be reasonably priced and accessible.

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