Task team to investigate how the army procured the Covid-19 drug, Interferon, for R260 million.
DOUBTS and aspersions are being cast over the South African Defence Force’s decision this week to set up a three-man task team to investigate corruption within the defence force including how the army bought the Covid-19 drug, Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B, from Cuba for R260 million.
The Defence Ministry announced in a statement on Thursday that Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has appointed former spooks – Zola Ngcakani, Billy Masethla and Dr Cassius Lubisi, to “investigate the veracity of allegations relating to Defence Intelligence and the purchasing of Interferon B from Cuba”.
A senior official in the SANDF has alleged that the investigation is a “cover-up”.
The official, whose identity cannot be disclosed for his protection, was echoing the sentiments of a disgruntled and retired Major-General Sandile Sizani who also complained that Lubisi is “heavily compromised” when it comes to fighting corruption within the SANDF.
“He is the first person I contacted about the corruption at Defence Intelligence when I did not get any joy from either the Minister or the Chief of SANDF. He was at the time DG in the Presidency and I believe he did nothing to address the situation.
“Now he is part of a task team that I expect would want to hear my side of the story. To me, it’s a matter of how much influence he would have on the findings and recommendations to the Minister. I’m saying this with all due respect to Dr Lubisi and the other two members of the task team. I’m not in any way suspecting their professionalism nor the independence of the chairperson. I am just worried that Dr Lubisi still needs to provide me with answers on my communication with him since he was DG in the Presidency,” said Sizani.
Approached for comment on Saturday, Lubisi issued a terse: “Thank you Sir. Please refer the question to the Ministry of Defence. They are best placed to comment. Best wishes.”
The senior official said the investigation into the R260 million drugs from Cuba scandal looks like “a very sophisticated corruption involving very senior members of the SANDF, and we believed that the deal involved more money than the reported R260 million”.
“This investigation is just a cover-up to silence some of the whistle-blowers who are threatening to go public on how the deal was cooked.” said the official who asked not to be named.
Sizani also believes that Mapisa-Nqakula shouldn’t have been the person to appoint the task team as she is allegedly implicated in the acquisition of the drugs from Cuba.
“The minister is one the people who signed off the deal and now she personally appoints a task team to investigate a deal in which she might be implicated.
“I am actually worried that this may be a way of covering up the whole thing. If I was in the shoes of the minister, I would have asked the president as the Commander-in-Chief of the army, to personally take charge and set up a task team to investigate all allegations levelled against the SANDF, not just the Defence Intelligence and the procurement of medical supplies from Cuba.
“I am of the view that President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the Commander-in-Chief of the defence force is abdicating responsibility and shifting it back to the department that is under fire. How I wish that the president would view these allegations with the seriousness they deserve, how I wish the Commander-in-Chief could do something more decisive to bring to book those that are accused of corruption and stealing taxpayers money.”
On Saturday, Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini, said it would be amiss to comment on the task team and its work before the work event starts.
“We can only say let the task team do its work and judge it by the results and outcome of their work that would have been completed. Once again, we would like to repeat that the team will be looking at two issues around the vaccines Interferon and Defence Intelligence related issues as stated in our media release and anyone with any information can present that to the task team and even approach any law enforcement agencies. Let us allow the task team to do its work before we judge it”.
Sizani said, after he didn’t get any joy from Lubisi, that he wrote to the Zondo commission where he alluded in his submission that the SANDF is rotten to the core.
Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke has also confirmed that her office is investigating the deal as Interferon B isn’t registered with SAHPRA or approved to be used in South Africa.
When the R260 million drugs scandal broke in January, the SANDF issued a statement defending its controversial acquisition of Interferon B.
“Over the last four months, a lot has been reported and written about the Interferon alfa-2b or the Heberon alfa R, since the South African National Defence Force acquired the medication from Cuba on an emergency basis following the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. There has since been a great interest in the drug and its efficacy as an immune-modulator in mitigation of Covid-19 complications including death and need for hospitalisation.
“It should be placed on record that the SANDF communicated with the Cuban military, and in these exploratory talks it was revealed that the use of Interferon alfa-2b as an immune-modulator in the management of Covid-19 was beneficial to patients who had tested positive and those who have been in close contact with a positive person.
“In fact, evidence is mounting that countries that use Heberon have lower mortality rates due to Covid-19.”
The statement continued: “The drug was not procured for wholesale and distribution but for the sole use by members of the SANDF who were employed to assist the country in managing the pandemic.
“It should be mentioned that Interferon is not a vaccine and does not treat Covid-19 pneumonia among hospitalised patients, but it confers heightened protection against Covid-19 as the Sars-2 CoronaVirus is known to attack natural interferons of the victim.
“This proactive approach by the SANDF was informed by the generally accepted understanding that the military is the last line of defence in all countries. Defence forces around the world are well known for their medical research for protecting their own forces and results of that research have had a beneficial impact on the wider society just like other technologies that have been developed by the military. The SANDF is no exception.”
Sizani on Saturday also accused the Zondo commission of dragging its feet and failing to call him to come and testify even after they wrote to him in August last year confirming his submission was “received and escalated”.
“I strongly believe that I haven’t been called to come and testify at the Zondo commission because my testimony doesn’t suit a certain narrative, if I was going to implicate former president Jacob Zuma or the Guptas, I would have been called and testified already.”
Sizani wrote to the Zondo commission claiming that the SANDF was “rotten to the core” after the top brass allegedly “fraudulently” and “questionably” awarded a litany of contracts worth millions of rand to a number of companies they allegedly benefit from.
Sizani wrote to the secretary of the commission, Professor Itumeleng Mosala, in November last year reminding him that he was “still waiting to hear from the commission whether my submission has been considered and being attended to”.
The commission spokesperson, Reverent Mbuyiselo Stemela, didn’t answer questions regarding Sizani’s allegations.