Public Protector Heberon findings mean work for SecDef

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The clock is ticking for Defence Secretary Gladys Kudjoe to implement Public Protector remedial findings in the wake of the disastrous acquisition of a Cuban unregistered COVID-19 prophylactic.

As the accounting officer for Minister Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) she, along with Modise and national defence force chief General Rudzani Maphwanya are instructed by Public Protector Report 34 of 2022/23, to ensure “strict compliance” with Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) procurement prescripts, relevant National Treasury (NT) regulations and Department of Defence (DoD) supply chain management policies.

Kudjoe and the country’s senior soldier have 60 days to comply with remedial action set out by the Chapter Nine institution. The Public Protector document, titled “Report on an investigation into allegations of maladministration and irregularities associated with the procurement of unauthorised medicines from Cube by the Department of Defence”, was released on 30 September which implies the 60 day period expires at the end of November.

All remedial actions put forward in the report stem from its overall finding of wrongdoing in acquiring Heberon to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel.

This is succinctly put in a single sentence of the 129 page report. It reads: “The allegation that the DOD failed to follow a proper procurement process
when procuring the drug is substantiated”.

At least of two those named as part of the improper procurement process will not be in SecDef’s line of sight as she works her way through the recommended remedial action. They are former SANDF chief Solly Shoke and the former top military medic, Zola Dabula. Both retired and are now officially military veterans.

Another part of the Public Protector report on the estimated R140 million plus Heberon acquisition has it: “The investigation revealed the DOD procured the drug from the Cuban government based on the bilateral agreement signed on 10 January 2012 concerning defence relationships established between the South African and Cuban governments [Project Thusano]”.

“In procuring the drug, DoD senior officials confirmed they did not follow any South African legal prescripts regulating public procurement of goods and services other than to rely on the bilateral agreement.”

This is explained as contravening the Project Thusano agreement,  claimed as the basis for procuring the drug, because Article One of the agreement “clearly states” it is subject to each country’s domestic laws and financial constraints.

On the cost of Heberon, the report notes: “The DoD spent approximately R35 million to procure the drug without following normal procurement processes”.

“DOD senior officials confirmed the department did not have additional funding to pay Cuba the approximate amount of R182 million for the drug consignment already delivered. The drugs were unregistered/unauthorised and could not be used to treat Covid-19 in South Africa.

“Expenditure in the amount of approximately R35 million to
procure the drugs from Cuba during April 2020 amounted to irregular, fruitless
and wasteful expenditure, as defined in the PFMA. This procurement was not economical and could not be obtained at a reasonable price.

“DOD officials failed in their responsibilities for an effective, efficient,
economical and transparent use of financial resources in their areas of responsibility.”

In addition to instituting remedial action, Kudjoe is instructed to include “a training programme for functional members dealing with procurement to be trained on the relevant provisions of the Constitution, recent DoD procurement cases where maladministration occurred and PFMA relating to procurement and DoD SCM policies, as encouraged the Skills Development Act”. This will form part of what the Public Protector report refers to as a “workplace skills plan”.

Maphwanya, the report has it, will “render the necessary assistance to the
SecDef, in order to ensure effective implementation” of the remedial and other actions.