Turf war hits Covid-19

Turf war hits Covid-19

MASERU-A turf war in the government has delayed the supply of equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
An investigation by thepost has revealed that officials in the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office are fighting over the procurement process.

The result, so far, is a standoff that could derail the government’s fight against the disease that could be slowly spreading in the country.
Since the crisis began in March, Lesotho has been relying on protective clothing, equipment and testing kits donated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Foundation.
Those supplies have however dwindled and the government is desperate to buy more.

But the procurement process is now stalled by what appears to be a battle for control between the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office.
The fight started when the administration of the Covid-19 response fund was moved to the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), a statutory board under the Prime Minister’s Office.

That meant that although this was a national health crisis, the Ministry of Health did not have control over the funds.
Who buys what has also become a hotly contested issue.
Lefu Manyokole, the Cabinet’s principal secretary for administration, appears to be at the centre of the fight by virtue of his control of the DMA.
Manyokole seems reluctant to allow the Ministry of Health to independently control the procurement of medical supplies for the Covid-19.

He expressed his reservations in an undated letter to then Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, who is now the Prime Minister.
Manyokole’s gripe was with the finance minister’s instruction to include finance officers from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance as signatories to the Covid-19 bank account.

His problem with that suggested arrangement was that he does not have authority over the officers from the two ministries.
He told the minister that while he understood the order “I find it difficult to administer such officers as I lack authority over them”.
He also said the Ministry of Health had already bought Covid-19 protective clothing and machinery without his participation.

“As a result, I would be comfortable if a portion of the warrant could be allocated directly to the Ministry of Health for payment of procured goods and services to that Ministry,” Manyokole said.
Manyokole was therefore coy to be involved in tenders that only come to him for payment from the Covid-19 bank account.

thepost has discovered that Manyokole was referring to a M40 million tender the health ministry awarded to nine companies. Seven of those companies are said to have refused to deliver their goods for fear that the government might not pay them.
Sources said they want the government to make a commitment that it will pay them.

One company supplied M1.2 million worth of testing kits while another delivered isolation tents for M430 000.
The deliveries were made over a month ago but the Minister of Health is yet to pay them because it has not received funds from the Covid-19 account.
The Prime Minister’s Office is allegedly querying how the companies were hired without its involvement.

Those delayed payments have only strengthened the resolve of the other seven companies to hold on to their equipment. In the meantime the ministry’s stock of protective clothing, testing kits and other equipment are dwindling fast.
The ministry is now in a quandary of sorts.

Yesterday the Lesotho Nurses Association handed Prime Minister Majoro a petition clamouring for that equipment (See story on Page 8)
Hospitals are also piling pressure on the health ministry to deliver health essentials. Yet the ministry doesn’t have control over the procurement process. Nor does it control the bank account.

Investigations have also revealed that the ministry is now holding on to another M100 million tender that cannot be issued because of the quarrels.
“We are running dry. We cannot get what we have ordered because suppliers see this confusion over who is responsible for payments,” said a senior health official who refused to be named.

“We cannot even issue another tender for M100 million because of this chaos. There will be a major disaster if there is a sudden Covid-19 outbreak when we don’t have enough equipment.”
Manyokole has asked Communications Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane, the chairperson of the committee of ministers for the Covid-19 response, to help bring health officials into the Covid-19 Tender Panel under the Prime Minister’s Office.

He said the panel “needs to be strengthened with Health procurement and technical personnel, so that it can ably deal with procurement items in the National Emergency Budget for Covid-19 Health Sector”.
“I will be grateful for your support in this critical matter, which will facilitate procurement and payment for required goods and services in the Health Sector.”

The panel’s next meeting is scheduled for today.
Several sources at the Ministry of Health told thepost that the ministry’s procurement officers were reluctant to attend the meeting.
“We have our own tender panel and procurement policies here so we cannot be dragged around to attend another ministry’s tender panel. We work for health, not the Prime Minister’s office,” said one official.

“They are not going to use us to rubberstamp decisions in another ministry that doesn’t deal with health matters,” said another official.
The official described the deadlock as a “battle for control of money and nothing else”. “Ultimately, there are people who want to decide who gets the tenders. Otherwise there is no other reason why someone would be hostile to allowing health to be in charge of the procurement of specialised medical equipment.”

The problem, the official said, is that no one on the Covid-19 tender panels knows anything about the required equipment.
“We are being called in because that panel is now stuck. This is what happens when you appoint a panel that has no technical expertise.”
Yesterday the Principal Secretary of Health, Thebe Mokoatle, confirmed that the delay in the Covid 19 medical equipment has been caused by “prolonged discussions” between his ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The discussions, Mokoatle said, are “over the sharing of responsibilities on the procurement of Covid-19 equipment and services”.
“The second procurement of close to M100 million has been delayed because we need to clear the issues that are surrounding the first procurement first,” he said.
Some Ministry of Health officials said they believed that Manyokole is throwing spanners because he still holds a grudge against the ministry.

Last year Manyokole was removed as the ministry’s principal secretary after clashes with the then Health Minister Nkaku Kabi.
He told a local newspaper that he had been “fired” for refusing to approve a price escalation on a contract won by an Indian-based medical equipment company.

He claims to have also refused to pay the company because it had “wrongfully increased prices”.
Manyokole said when he stood his ground he was shunted back to the Prime Minister’s office.
That transfer, he said, is a dismissal from the Ministry of Health “finish and klaar”.

This week Manyokole said he had no vendetta against the ministry but just wanted procedure to be followed. He also denied that he was blocking the procurement (See sidebar for his full response)

Staff Reporter

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