Illegal Heberon acquisition again raised in the National Assembly

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The Heberon affair is not going to go quietly into the night if a Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian has any say into the multi-million Rand “acquisition” of an unregistered Cuban COVID-19 prophylactic and its subsequent sobriquet of “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” given by the Auditor General.

The parliamentarian concerned is the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais. He was at Minister Thandi Modise again, this time by way of a Parliamentary question in the National Assembly (NA). Marais wanted to know, among others, whether “heads will roll” for allowing the seemingly illegal import of Heberon using the COVID-19 state of disaster regulations to bypass standard Government set-down acquisition criteria.

He pointedly asked the Minister whether anyone has been held accountable “before a disciplinary committee and/or the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)”. If not, Marais asked Modise to inform him why and “what the consequences will be if nobody is held to account”.

Responding, the Defence and Military Veterans Minister told him for starters “the full Military Command Council (MCC)” of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) approved the decision to acquire the unregistered Cuban drug.

On specifics regarding accountability, Modise said a twofold approach as recommended by the ministerial task team (appointed by former minister, now NA Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula) to investigate, would or is being followed. One leg is a board of inquiry (BOI) to “dive deeper” on correcting and aligning SANDF systems and processes. The second leg involves the final Public Protector report on the Heberon acquisition, released at the end of September, “as most of the individuals affected were still making presentations”. She also pointed out the Public Protector’s findings will “have a direct impact on SANDF disciplinary measures”.

Modise told Marais the unused Heberon has been returned to Cuba “minus the vials used/taken by SAHPRA (SA Health Products Regulatory Agency) for testing and approved selective use on SANDF trial sessions (sic)”.

Progress was reported to this week’s meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) under the over-arching presentation title of “Briefing to the JSCD on the DoD (Department of Defence) response to the Auditor General’s 2021/22 audit outcomes”.

On what is termed “importation of unregistered drug”, the presentation notes (supporting Modise’s answer) unused drugs were returned to Cuba and further that “the Minister instructed the Chief of the SANDF (General Rudzani Maphwanya) to institute consequence management, based on the MTT (ministerial task team) report”.

An indication of Marais’ determination to find satisfactory answers to the Heberon affair comes with deposition of an affidavit and memory stick at Worcester Police Station in June this year. To boost his case Marais added the Auditor General report on the acquisition to the CAS 197/6/2022 file at the Western Cape police station.