Parliament should oversee vaccine roll-out

Parliament should oversee vaccine roll-out

By Joel Mandaza

Zimbabwe is in the process of procuring a vaccine, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s address on the matter put to rest the preceding speculation.

He said the first shipment should reach Zimbabwe on Monday 8 February 2021.

With the whole world aggressively pursuing mass inoculations, it would be fatal and non-strategic for Zimbabwe to be left behind.

The effort to ensure that there are vaccines, especially for those considered to be at high risk is highly commendable.

Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube said the country has set aside US$100 million to procure the jabs.

However, the devil is in the implementation.

Zimbabwe is a country well known for its imprudence when it comes to public goods and benefits meant for large numbers.

Between 1995 and 1997, when the government sought to compensate liberation war heroes who got injured during the war under the War Victims Compensation Fund, Dr Chenjerai Hunzvi who led the assessment team was giving out disability certificates to able bodied individuals.

It was a fraud of epic proportions.

Parliament should oversee vaccine roll-out

If we are not careful, we may witness a repeat of the same situation, only difference being that the

During the first wave, donations were coming through the executive with benefactors personally taking consumables straight to the state house.

Almost on a daily basis, state media ran stories of stocks of PPEs, sanitisers and other critical accessories key in the fight against Covid-19 being delivered to the country’s first citizen.

At the same time this happened, doctors did not have enough protective clothing; they got to the point of striking.

One wonders how the donations being made were being utilized.

The same can happen on vaccine doses, we may see these vaccines through the front pages of The Herald and other state media outlets.

If our government could not provide PPEs for doctors despite it being a clear need, there is no guarantee that the vaccine shots will surely get to their intended beneficiaries judiciously.

There is a need for someone to be on the side of the people, to avoid misappropriation of the vaccine itself.

South Africa has created a database of health workers and priority populations for the vaccine.

Zimbabwe should do the same too, there should be an auditable list of those who are receiving the vaccine.

This will ensure that politicians and their families do not skip the line using their muscle.

Everyone is afraid of the pandemic, but there should be priority in who gets the jab first.

Zimbabwe was cursed with personalities who are morally depraved, they are not afraid of exerting their power even in the oddest of scenarios.

One time a former minister was found with wheelchairs, rotting at their farm.

We do not want to see boxes of the vaccine expiring in garages in leafy suburbs or sheds at farms.

Parliament must empower the Auditor General to also keep a close eye on how the vaccine is procured, handled and disbursed.

In 2017, a visit by an audit team to former Agriculture Minister Dr Joseph Made’s farm showed that he had wheelchairs and expired drugs stashed at his farm.

Those consumables could have been put to better use, but there is still a penchant for the primitive accumulation of wealth among the ruling elite.

Although part of our vaccine will be donated by our all weather friends, the Chinese, some will be bought.

The money which will be utilized to purchase these vaccines is public money, which will need to be accounted for.

History, in the Covid-19 public procurement cycle has shown us that despite the deaths and strife that the country is facing, the regular looters are not afraid of trying to manipulate figures to their own advantage.

The Drax scandal comes to mind, in which connected business people used a shelf company to win a tender to supply drugs and Covid-19 consumables at an inflated price.

It is with this recent history in mind, that Parliament as the custodian of national spending should ensure that they have a clear understanding of how the money is being utilized.

There should be openness on all Covid-19 contracts, they should be made public documents, especially those relating to vaccine purchase.

This will allow the taxpayer to get a full understanding of how their money was used by the government.

The Public Accounts Committee, should show its usual rigour in making the Ministries of Finance Health to account.

We do not want another Command Agriculture, it is no secret that Comrades do not behave too well when there are huge amounts of money involved, especially in foreign currency.

The Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission, established through an Act of Parliament should rise to the occasion.

This is the time for them to prove their worth to the Zimbabwean citizenry, which already holds its doubts, understandably.

Now is the time for them to show the country that they are useful.

Any attempts at corruption at this critical time should be interpreted as acting against the interests of the country and the culprits should be brought to book.

This impending vaccine rollout appears like a potential hotbed for corruption, if precedent is anything to go by, ZACC must not abdicate its duties.

Parliament, as the institution that gives credence to ZACC`s existence, should ensure that the institution is living up to expectations.

Besides concerns of integrity, which are guaranteed to rise whenever processes are led by politicians in Zimbabwe, there are technical concerns.

Some vaccines need specialised conditions for them to maintain their efficacy.

Parliament should oversee vaccine roll-out

For instance, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of -70°C.

That means the vaccine must be kept in specialized freezers that cost as much as $20,000 each and are rare outside of medical research facilities.

Before importation of such regimens, it is important for the logistics to be in place.

Parliament should see to it that the transportation and the storage facilities are well in order.

This may seem like an infantile request but Zimbabwean history is littered with cases of people who procured instruments that had very little use to the country.

Univern, a Supa Mandiwanzira linked company at one point bought snow graders instead of road graders, in a botched deal which prejudiced the country of US$8million

On the surface, it may appear like cynicism but facts on the ground justify the need for a keen eye to watch how the vaccine is handled.

Over the years, we have seen the degeneration of our health system and those in power have not batted an eyelid.

They have not given anyone reason to believe that they have the propensity or ability to act in good faith. As far as health is concerned, therefore Parliament should be the people’s representative monitoring the disbursement of the vaccine. Get more Covid-19 Stats from #OpenCovidContracts

Parliament should oversee vaccine roll-out