The saga around the importation and use of a Cuban immune booster/modulator to protect soldiers and other military personnel, mainly medical, from the “viral army of SARS-Cov-2” will resume when Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) has its first meeting of the year next Wednesday (26 January).
The committee, according to an agenda seen by defenceWeb, is due to hear a Department of Defence (DoD) presentation on the findings of a ministerially appointed task team that investigated procurement of “Heberon medication from Cuba”. With two working days before the PCDMV meets, committee members have received the DoD presentation but not the report of the three-man ministerial task team (MTT).
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais maintains this is untenable and has escalated it to Minister Thandi Modise. The MTT, comprising former Intelligence director general Zola Ngcakani, former director general in The Presidency Cassius Lubisi, and former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director general Billy Masethla, was given six months to complete its task by then defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, now National Assembly (NA) Speaker.
Marais points out in his letter to Modise, she and her predecessor “promised” the oversight committee would receive the MTT report.
“That we do not have it a week before the meeting impacts negatively on our capacity to do thorough oversight and prepare for a comprehensive engagement with the MTT.
“The DoD presentation is just not good enough and expresses underlying frustration and animosity by the DoD toward other state institutions, in particular the offices of the Auditor General and SAHPRA (South African Health Products Regulatory Agency), rather than admit wrongdoing. It also gives, unfortunately, seemingly selective snippets from the MTT report to support the subjective opinion by the DoD and the Military Command Council (MCC).”
The lengthy DoD presentation goes into some detail regarding the decision to acquire Heberon, which it identifies as an “immune booster”, noting among others the involvement of previous SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief Solly Shoke and former surgeon general Zola Dabula, and the Cuban/South African military co-operation agreement entered into as Project Thusano. It also alleges SAHPRA “seemed to be doing the bidding for dominant pharmaceutical monopolies or oligarchies that consistently seek to stifle any competition, especially one that unconventionally comes from the likes of the Republic of Cuba and any other source outside the dominant Western axis led by US and European pharmaceuticals”.
“This,” the presentation notes, “is part of an ideological slant that has consistently dominated the pharma industry since the dawn of freedom in South Africa in 1994. Given the lack of evidence in support of or in contradiction of this assertion in relation to SAHPRA, the MTT believes this claim can neither be discounted nor affirmed”.
It presents a best and worst case scenario in conclusion, noting “the difference in fruitless expenditure between the two is US$3.272 million (R50 million at the current exchange rate)”.