Cuban drug acquisition under task team and oversight committee microscopes


The spending of around R260,59 million on a Cuban drug for use by South African soldiers and other national defence force personnel will be the subject of a thorough investigation.

This comes in the wake of pressure by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, in the form of its shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, and the ruling party, he said in a statement.

The amount of R260,59 million quoted for acquisition of Heberon (the unregistered medical drug Heberon Alfa R, containing the active ingredient interferon alpha 2b) by the Auditor-General is converted from the US price of $15 048 872,50. This is set out in the Second Special Report on the financial management of government’s COVID-19 initiatives provided by Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke.

The investigation follows a decision taken this week by the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV).

As background to his call for an investigation, Marais said: “The Military Command Council (MCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) procured the Cuban drug Hebron Interferon Alpha-2B without prior approval by and registration with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). The MCC did not comply with statutory import regulations and protocols for importing any medicine into South Africa. The medicine is not approved in South Africa for human application and use.

“Not only is Interferon, intended for use during the COVID-19 pandemic by the military, not peer-reviewed in a respected medical journal, the SANDF also failed to maintain the cold-chain supply and ruined 40% of the procurement. This incompetence should have seen Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke fired.”

Following the committee decision to investigate, Marais said it should bring to light who took the acquisition decision, who has to be held accountable and “who will eventually have to lay a charge about the allegedly illegal medicine with the SA Police Service (SAPS)”.

The PCDMV investigation will take the form of special meetings where “parties involved will be asked to present findings”.

Importantly, according to Marais, no political party will be excluded from the investigation. It will also call on Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and the MCC to explain the “millions wasted”.

He is hopeful this will signify a start to “no more running from accountability”.

The Auditor-General’s second report into COVID-19 financial management indicates Minister Mapisa-Nqakula “has since decided” to appoint an external task force for the Heberon acquisition.

“It will investigate, among others, findings in the report to ensure any wrongdoing uncovered, whether of a criminal or disciplinary nature, will be addressed. According to the draft terms of reference for the establishment and functioning of the task team, the investigation will run from 4 January to 6 April 2021.”