Did MoH side-step protocols/processes in COVID-19 vaccines procurement from Al Maktoum?

By Emmanuel Mensah-Abludo. 

Claim in June 2021, Ghana was cited in an investigative report in a Norwegian Newspaper known as VG [Verdens Gang] for agreeing to procure the Sputnik-V Vaccines from a businessman (Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum) at unit price of $19 instead of $10, almost doubled the factory price. In spite of the deal being criticized, the Ministry of Health defended the deal, saying negotiations were held when vaccines were in short supply globally.

Verdict
Per the analysis of the procedures for procurement, discussions as well as the admission by the Minister of Health that the difficulty in securing vaccines compelled the government [MoH] to go into agreement with Al Maktoum indicate that processes were not adhered to.

Issues from Minority
The Minority in Parliament raised issues and insisted that a bi-partisan probe was instituted to investigate the purchase.

The Minority has actualised its demand by filing a motion to set up a Nine-Member Adhoc Committee to look into the procurement and supply of Sputnik-V- COVID-19 Vaccines. The motion was sponsored by Members of Parliament from the minority side. They are: Haruna Iddrisu (Tamale South); Mohammed-Mubarak Muntaka (Asawase); Kwabena Mintah Akandoh (Juaboso); Dr. Sebastian Ngemenenso Sandaare (Daffiama-Bussie-Issa); Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa (North Tongu); Dr. Mark Kurt Nawaane (Nabdam); and Ernest Henry Norgbey (Ashaiman).

The Committee will investigate the procurement contract between the government of Ghana and Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum and Per Morten Hansen for the supply of the Sputnik-V Vaccines and submit a report for the consideration of the House.

Launch of GHANEPS
In 2019, Ghana’s Electronic Procurement System (GHANEPS) was launched in Accra. The e-procurement system is designed to address corruption in procurement procedures by reducing human face-to-face interaction, and increase productivity for both Procurement Officers and Service Providers as all manual procurement processes and procedures are automated. The roll-out of GHANEPS is under the auspices of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA). The Vice President of the Republic, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia who performed the launch touted Ghana as the first country in the West African sub-region to establish an electronic procurement system for the public sector.

GHANEPS modeled on OCDS
In line with international best practices, GHANEPS uses the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) for its reporting and display of information. In this format, information is available at each stage of the procurement process thereby enhancing transparency.

The Open Contracting Data Standard
The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), was developed by the Web Foundation to better track and understand how trillions of dollars of public money are spent in order to help fight corruption, improve service delivery, and enhance market efficiency. The Standard could enable governments to create a fairer system around government contracts by directly enabling more robust and reliable contracts, as well as an opportunity to increase public trust and transparency. It was created to support organisations to increase contracting transparency and enable deeper analysis of contracting data by a wide range of users.

OCDS adoption
Presently, the OCDS is being implemented by 30+ national and subnational governments all over the world, including Australia, Buenos Aires, Chile, Colombia, France, Paraguay, UK, Ukraine and Zambia.

Rationale for OCDS
Contracting data published in an OCDS format is easier to share, compare and analyse. It was designed for four specific user needs, underpinned by a field-by-field analysis of how the data can be used to support those needs. The user needs are:

  • Delivering better value for money, saving government money and time;
  • Building a fairer business environment and a level playing field for suppliers; and
  • Improving public integrity by deterring fraud and corruption; and
  • Tracking and improving service delivery.

Expectation
Against the backdrop of Ghana modeling her e-procurement system (GHANEPS) on OCDS, it is expected that the country will be guided by the principles of GHANEPS/OCDS in all her internal and external procurements. The Ministry of Health as mentioned earlier recently came under the searchlight for procuring Sputnik-V Vaccines through intermediaries and at price(s) above the market value/factory price.

Perception
There is perception that public procurement is fraught with corruption and a conduit through which funds that could be used for national development are siphoned or channeled into private pockets. Public Procurement Act, 2003(Act 663) as amended with (Act 914) of 2016 was promulgated to check corruption.

Reality
In 2019, media report(s) exposed corruption at the Public Procurement Authority (PPA), which was set up to prevent such practices. Specifically, on August 22, 2019, President Akufo-Addo suspended the Chief Executive Officer of PPA, Agyenim Boateng Adjei in a letter signed by the Director of Communications, Jubilee House-Accra, Eugene Arhin. The suspension followed allegations made against Mr Adjei in an investigative documentary made by Manasseh Azure Awuni, titled “contracts for Sale”.

Figure 1 Suspension Letter of Mr. A. B. Adjei.

Any post-‘Contract for sale’ expose lesson?
Manasseh Azure Awuni’s “contracts for Sale” investigation in connection with PPA was a wake-up call for the government to employ further strategies to make procurement processes more transparent and less susceptible to abuse. The over-priced procurement of the Sputnik-V vaccines through intermediaries is making citizens/netizens ask the question: What has changed in Ghana’s procurement system after the ‘contract for sale’ expose?

PPA-Vaccines Certification
The Public Procurement Authority (PPA), has prepared Standard Tender Documents (STD), detailing the standard operating procedures to be used by the Ministry of Health and all Public Health Institutions in the procurement of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and condoms through international competitive tendering (ICT) in accordance with the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) as amended. The National Control Authority (NCA), Food and Drugs Authority must ensure that the certification of goods (vaccines) is in accordance with the laws of Ghana.

Figure 2 Tender Data Sheet-Vaccines (Additional Clauses).

Under the Public Procurement Act, 2003(Act 663) as amended with (Act 914) of 2016 restricted tendering and single-source procurement can be resorted under certain circumstances as captured below.

Single-source procurement

Justification of Sputnik-V vaccines contract(s)
Government, through the Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, signed two contracts for supply of Sputnik V vaccines at $19 and $18.5 through middlemen.
According to the government, the move is/was a result of difficulties in securing vaccines through government-to-government arrangements which could have driven down the price.

The Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, at the ‘Meet The Press’ engagement on July 24, 2021, disclosed a deputy ambassador at the Russian embassy was engaged by government to facilitate the procurement of the vaccines but to no avail.

Counter claims
But addressing the media Minority leader, Haruna Iddrisu, stated a deputy Ambassador portfolio does not exist at the Russian embassy.

The Tamale South MP, Haruna iddrisu, argued the contracts breach Article 181 (5) of the Constitution, which requires such international transactions to secure parliamentary approval and thus must be halted immediately.

Ghana has not been swindled-Majority
The Chairman of Parliament’s Health Committee, Dr Nana Ayew Afriyie has dispelled claims that government has been swindled in the deal to procure Russia’s Sputnik-V Covid-19 vaccine at $19 per dose.

He argued that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), and the procurement of the Sputnik-V vaccines require the use of middlemen whose activities will lead to an increase in the original price of the jabs hence, the concerns being raised over ‘abnormal’ pricing are misplaced.

We have not been swindled as a State. Even though we are in a desperate state to get vaccines, the policy of the government which is a very good one is to get business persons to go into the Sputnik-V space.”

The MOH rehashed this claim, saying an increment in the cost of the vaccines was as a result of a “cost build-up to the ex-factory price of US$10 per dose, taking into account land transportation, shipment, insurance, handling, and special storage charges as explained by the seller”.

Baseless excuses for procurement-Minority
The Ranking Member on Parliament’s Health Committee, Kwabena Mintah Akandoh has expressed dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Health’s justification of government’s decision to purchase Covid-19 vaccines at almost double the market price.

He said there can be no justifiable reason why the vaccine, which is sold on the international market for $10, should be bought by Ghana at $19 per dose through middlemen.

“The right thing must be done so that we don’t create any desperate situation to attempt to milk the system. What is preventing the Ghana government from dealing with the manufacturer directly or joining the AU or even using the COVAX vehicle,” Mr Akandoh quizzed.

WHO-warning on intermediary vaccine purchases
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Monday[7-06-2021] of the danger of buying overpriced vaccines from intermediaries, reminding that countries should buy vaccines certified by the WHO and make sure to identify the origin of the product.

“We have received concerns regarding other vaccines … with intermediates selling it (one vaccine) at a much higher price than what has been actually sold by the manufacturers,” said Mariangela Batista Galvao Simao, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products, during a press conference.

Simao said that countries should either buy directly from the manufacturer or “contact the manufacturer to make sure that the intermediate is legal.”

“There is a lot of substandard and falsified COVID products being commercialised out there, so you need to know the provenance [origin],” she added.

Simao also said that it was important to vaccinate people with products “certified” by the WHO.

An Intermediary’s Assertion
I HAVE ARRANGED for vaccines. I was a go-between and conveyed vaccines to Ghana”.
These are the words of Norwegian Per Morten Hansen (59). The words are uttered before the vaccine agreement is made public – to someone other than VG.

Further observations per VG: Non adherence to procurement procedures
The pandemic has in several cases been used to set aside standard tender procedures in Ghana, which increases the risk of corruption, according to the report “Strengthening Covid-19 Accountability Mechanisms (SCAM)”.

The agreement to purchase Sputnik vaccines did not go via the Parliament of Ghana, which is a statutory requirement for international agreements, says Member of Parliament Kwabena Mintah Akandoh (40). He is the Minority ranking member on the Health Committee of Parliament.

The major private health organisations have also not been informed. Normally, they take part in detailed budgeting of purchases of e.g., malaria or HIV medication together with the government, explains Gabriel Benarkuu, who is the head of a coalition of health organisations in Ghana (GCNH).

During the coronavirus pandemic, the situation has been different. “Everything that has to do with Covid funding and purchases has occurred with zero insight into how the money has been spent,” says Benarkuu.
– Have you been informed of how the Sputnik agreement was established?
– No, I have no idea, he says.

Conclusion
It is evident that standard operating procedures (SOPs), were not followed in respect of the procurement agreement with Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum for the Sputnik-V vaccines. The Ministry of Health had justified the non-adherence to standard protocols for vaccines purchase due to exigency.

Ghana must endeavour to uphold the provisions of the Public Procurement Act/GHANEPS/OCDS and also be guided by the World Health Organisation’s advice for countries to buy vaccines directly from the manufacturer or contact the manufacturer to make sure that the intermediate is legal before procurement. Standardised and prudent procurement will not only increase public trust and transparency but also prevent substandard and falsified COVID products from being bought.

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