The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans has invited the South African Military Health Service to account for R260.59 million spent by the Department of Defence to procure Heberon, which contains the active ingredient interferon alpha 2b.

Chairperson of the committee, Cyril Xaba, said the committee is seriously concerned by the lack of planning and disregard for regulatory rules and regulations in the procurement of Heberon, which reportedly  confers protection against COVID-19.

“To say we are shocked is an understatement and we need accountability on how such large consignments could be procured outside of the rules and regulations set out to ensure safety, transparency and good governance, and that there was value for money,” said Xaba.

As a result, the committee has resolved to invite the Chief of the South African Military Health Service Surgeon-General, Lieutenant-General Zola Dabula; Chief Financial Officer, Siphiwe Sokhela; Chief of Logistics, Lieutenant-General Jabulani Mbuli, and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to further understand the reasons behind the procurement of Heberon.

On Wednesday, the committee received a special audit report on the financial management of COVID-19 funds by the Department of Defence from the Auditor-General.

The audit report highlighted shortcomings, including non-submission of information, which resulted in a number of audit limitations and inadequate planning for the procurement of Heberon, without indication of how the department determined the required quantities.

The report also highlighted lack of evidence of SAHPRA’s prior approval for the importation of Heberon, and no post-importation testing and breach of cold-chain requirements, which resulted in approximately 40% of vials’ integrity being possibly compromised.

This, according to the committee, is an indictment on the department’s procurement processes. It said those responsible must be held accountable for the lapse.

The committee said it was unacceptable that the contract used during procurement did not specify the quantity of Heberon required and was only signed after the first delivery had taken place.

“These discrepancies are the reasons we must investigate further to get to the bottom of the matter. The committee concerns are in the context of ensuring good governance and prudent spending of taxpayers’ resources, especially in a department that perpetually complains about inadequate financial resources,” Xaba said.

No discrepancies in allowances paid to force members

Meanwhile, the committee welcomed the findings that there were no discrepancies in relation to the allowances paid to the deployed forces (regular and reserve members), as well as the salaries of reserve force members for the period 1 April to 31 July 2020.

The committee also welcomed the audit of the Wuhan repatriation mission, which focused on reviewing the procurement process for the flight, and the recording of the related costs in the department’s books, which identified no significant findings.

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