Military Ombud to be part of Cuban COVID-19 drug investigation


A call has been made for the Military Ombud to investigate the reported R215 million spent importing an apparently unregistered COVID-19 drug by the medical arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais will ask retired general Vusi Masondo to look closely at what has been termed “the debacle” around the large scale acquisition of Hebron Alpha R2B, also known as Interferon.

“A scathing preliminary report from the Auditor-General (AG) painted a dark picture on procurement of this drug,” Marais said.

“Not only did the Department of Defence (DoD) not provide the AG with the necessary information to complete the investigation, it appears the DoD did not comply with legislation regarding importing non-registered pharmaceuticals before, during or after the fact. Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department also seemingly failed to follow proper protocols related to monitoring cold chain storage and transportation of imported drugs. There are serious concerns around the integrity and subsequent usability of a large number of the imported vials yet to be addressed.”

Marais told defenceWeb he – to date – has received no reply to his question asking the DoD, specifically the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), why it needed to import medication in the first place and apparently sought to remove this responsibility from the National Department of Health.

“Questions around who approved procurement of the medication will hopefully be answered when the SANDF complies with AG requests for the necessary documentation to complete the investigation,” he said.

Marais maintains the preliminary AG report “shows a corrupt SANDF that tried every trick in the book to waste taxpayers’ money on illegally importing non-registered pharmaceuticals”. In his opinion the military medical health service displayed “only subterfuge and indulged in illegalities” bringing Interferon to South Africa from Cuba.

Interferon is apparently not registered for use as a COVID-19 treatment by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). SAMHS reportedly had permission to import 10 vials of the drug to treat a patient with the regulatory authority rejecting an application for large scale treatment.

Marais plans to “lay charges” with the Military Ombud in connection with unauthorised importation and usage of Interferon against at least four senior national defence force generals. They are SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke, Chief of Logistics Lieutenant General Morris Moadira, Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Lindile Yam and Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Zola Dabula.

According to the Sunday Times, the AG is a auditing some of the R147 billion government COVID-19 expenditure at the request of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The publication noted the AG flagged another contract involving Cuba’s Tecnoimport, covering a five-year deal in 2014 for 150 Cuban mechanics to repair SANDF vehicles under Project Thusano last year. “The contract, which escalated from under R200 million to R900 million plus in 2019, was flagged as irregular after it emerged Shoke signed it without permission from the secretary of defence or the defence minister,” the Sunday Times reported.

According to African Defence Review director Darren Olivier “it’s good the AG is looking into this and the overall Cuban technician contract. The allegations are shocking and if confirmed true nothing less than the resignation of both the defence minister and the chief of the SANDF should be considered acceptable.”

Olivier  usually shies away from demanding dismissal of service chiefs, as political accountability lies with the minister, but in this case Shoke is directly implicated in fraudulent behaviour.

“Shoke is in any case due for retirement. His term as Chief has now lasted nine years, since 2011 and next year he reaches 65 – the mandatory retirement age after the Minister of Defence extended his service for a statutory five extra years in 2016.”