Mabuza assures MPs that vaccination procurement is above board
Deputy President David Mabuza on Wednesday assured parliament that no corruption had occurred during the government’s process of securing and procuring the Covid-19 vaccines.
“From where I am sitting, I am quite confident in the process ... that we have followed all processes to ensure that there is no corruption. We have an interministerial committee that is looking at all these processes, and if we detect any sign of corruption, we follow it,” said Mabuza.
Answering Covid-19 questions, Mabuza said legally binding nondisclosure agreements compelled the government to share limited information with the public.
“I take it that in the final analysis the auditor-general will be able to see the value for money. We will be able to disclose to the AG why we paid so much instead of paying so much. But, in this case, it’s either we take it or leave it. The price is set and we negotiate the prices and in certain instances. [Some] give you a discount and others don’t,” said the deputy president.
Answering a question by ACDP’s Kenneth Meshoe on the No Fault Compensation Fund, Mabuza said: “In our case as SA, it was either we accept these clauses as a country or we do not have to accept these clauses as a country, or we do not have any access to any of the vaccines.”
The South African government was compelled to establish the scheme — which will protect citizens who may suffer injury, loss or death during the vaccination programme — as part of a precondition made by vaccine manufactures Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
The scheme, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer R250m in the first year, is going to be headed by retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our people are protected through this scheme. Manufacturers of the Covid-19 vaccines will not make any contribution to this no-fault compensation system. This is part of the contractual obligation for all countries that acquire Covid-19 vaccines,” said Mabuza.
He said the government had learnt lessons from recent experiences of governments who were reporting potential cases of severe side effects among vaccinated members of their population, that such a scheme is very important.
“The Covid-19 injury no-fault compensation fund (which will operate for a limited time) will contain and minimise the effects that may arise as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As we take lessons from the implementation of SA’s Covid-19 response plan, we continue to forge ahead with plans for building capacity to manufacture vaccines locally though harnessing our existing manufacturing capabilities in partially state-owned Biovac Institution as well as research & development capabilities with partners in Brics,” he said.
Mabuza said SA was encouraged by a recent announcement of an anticipated waver on intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines that is proposed by SA and India and now supported by the US.
The proposal, he said, establishes a global solution to enhance manufacturing and boost supply capacity and enables co-ordination and access to information now under patent protection.
In a follow-up question, Meshoe asked Mabuza how the country planned to fund the scheme and he responded by saying SA had already acceded to the preconditions and the cabinet had agreed to establish the fund because the vaccination process must continue.
“We have signed the agreements with the intentions that we must proceed and vaccinate our nation so that we can fight this pandemic. Of course in medicine, whatever medicine that you take, there are side-effects, depending on the comorbidities you carry as a human being.”
Mabuza said the government was not aiming to introduce any tax to establish the fund and again assured parliament that the government was not being secretive about the negotiations.
“I think every vaccine that we receive goes through a process. Our regulatory body checks whether these vaccines are suitable to be consumed by our people.”
He said the government does not just simply acquire vaccines, it follows a process.
The South African Health Regulatory Authority has been asked to expedite its process of checking Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and China’s Sinovac so the government can have more options.
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said with the detection of a new variant and the looming third wave the government was lagging on its targets.
Posing a question to Mabuza, she said, “How can we trust the government will be able to roll out to the rest of SA on Monday (May 17) when the rollout has been incredibly slow? Would you also acknowledge that this vaccination programme has been a spectacular failure on the part of government?”
To which he responded: “Yes we accept that our vaccination process has been very slow, I think affected by a number of factors.”
Mabuza reminded parliament about the hiccup during the procurement of the AstraZeneca vaccines which later had to be sold to AU countries because their efficacy was not up to standard.
While there were delays, Mabuza said, the country would meet its targets.
“We are confident that we are going to receive our J&J supply and we will be able to catch up with the vaccination and start in earnest with phase two, and move with speed. Of course our pace of vaccination depends on the availability of the vaccines. I think we are going to have to be patient, we are going to start on the 17th, if everything goes well.”
Meanwhile, acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni thanked South Africans for continuously abiding by the non-pharmaceutical measures to curb Covid-19 infection.
“Despite the prevalence of 501Y.V2 variant in SA, both the infection and death rates have not been very high, though a loss of even one life is one loss too many.
“We encourage South Africans to continue to adhere to the non-pharmaceutical health protocols of wearing a mask in public, washing hands with soap or sanitiser and maintaining a social distance of 1.5m,” said Ntshavheni.