AG confirms SANDF was invoiced R260m for unregistered Cuban drug

09 December 2020 - 18:31
By andisiwe makinana AND Andisiwe Makinana
A report by the auditor-general says a deal worth over R200m was struck for an unauthorised Covid-19 drug from Cuba.
Image: 123RF/LEIGH ANNEF A report by the auditor-general says a deal worth over R200m was struck for an unauthorised Covid-19 drug from Cuba.

The auditor-general has confirmed that the defence department has been invoiced to the tune of R260m for Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B, an unregistered medical drug from Cuba.

Auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke said on Wednesday that her office picked up that R34.68m of the amount had already been paid.

“In so far as what we found at the department of defence is that, when we looked at the accounting records, we found invoices to the value of R260m ... invoices and evidence of imports for goods that would have come through by August 17,” she said.

“Some time up until August, R230m of invoices, but a payment of R34.86m,” she added.

Maluleke, who announced the results of the second audit into Covid-19 funds on Wednesday, said they would follow up on the matter when her office completes its year-end audit.

She said the department of defence was conducting an investigation on the affect of the transaction and whether there are irregularities associated with it.

The AG said they understood that the procurement process didn't go as well as it should have and raised alarm, and in response, the department is investigating.

“We will await the completion of that investigation and we will follow up when we do our year-end audit,” she said.

In a prepared presentation shared with the media, the AG states that there were shortcomings in planning, procurement, transportation, warehousing and recording of medicines in the department, in particular the procurement and import of an unregistered medical drug from Cuba.

The AG also found inadequate planning for procurement of medical equipment and personal protective equipment.

“Manual processes used to manage the receipt, accounting and distribution of PPE exposed the department to losses,” read the presentation.

It emerged last month that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) imported the dubious and unregistered drug despite a warning against its use by a top government advisory committee.

SowetanLIVE's sister publication the Sunday Times reported in November that according to a preliminary audit report issued by the AG to the SANDF and the department of defence for comment, military officials effectively broke just about every law governing the importation and registration of medicines in SA, and effectively smuggled the illegitimate drugs into the country from Cuba.

The defence force went to extreme lengths to conceal the deal, doctoring customs documentation and using a payment code for training to mask that it was paying for the medication.

At the time, Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits University, described the defence force's actions as “illegal”.

“Importing medicines into the country, whether for clinical trials or treatment, without the required permission ... is against the law. So it's either the defence force is ignorant of the law or they are oblivious of it.

“There is no scientific rationale for doing a clinical trial of IFN-2b as it has already been shown to be ineffective in the [World Health Organisation] solidarity trial in the treatment of Covid-19,” he was quoted as having said at the time.

Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B was touted by Cuba this year as a wonder treatment for the coronavirus. It is administered through the nose over 10 days to patients in intensive care.