‘Heads will roll’: Modise vows action on SANDF’s R260m Cuban drug spend

Parliament balks at defence department’s failure to present report on controversial purchase of Interferon

25 August 2021 - 17:50 By mawande amashabalala
Defence minister Thandi Modise says she needs only three weeks to get to the bottom of those responsible for the wasteful expenditure amounting to R260m spent on an unapproved Cuban drug. File photo.
Defence minister Thandi Modise says she needs only three weeks to get to the bottom of those responsible for the wasteful expenditure amounting to R260m spent on an unapproved Cuban drug. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times

New defence and military veterans minister Thandi Modise was spitting fire at the portfolio committee on defence meeting on Wednesday.

This after the defence team, led by its administration boss – secretary of defence Sonto Kudjoe – failed to table a ministerial task team report commissioned under ex-minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to investigate SANDF’s scandalous procurement of the drug Interferon.

The SA National Defence Force last year bypassed the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) and the health department to fork out R260m to procure close to a million doses of Interferon from the Cubans.

The drug was procured under the auspices of protecting members of the defence force from Covid-19.

After the fallout from the noncompliance with procurement and health laws, Mapisa-Nqakula was then instructed by the portfolio committee to set up a task team to investigate the purchase and report back.

Mapisa-Nqakula was fired from her job early this month before she could report back on the task team’s work, passing over the hot potato to her ministerial replacement, Modise. 

While the portfolio committee on Wednesday was ready for the presentation of what the task team had unearthed, Modise said she was a newcomer and was yet to have a full grasp of the Interferon debacle. She then passed the buck to Kudjoe.

Kudjoe and the defence chief of logistics instead took the department on a long-winded background lecture before they were stopped in their tracks by portfolio committee chairperson Vusumuzi Xaba, who said: “I do not know where we are going with this discussion. The focus of the meeting is on the work of the ministerial task team and we do not want to go the same route we have traversed before.”

Kudjoe blamed Mapisa-Nqakula for widening the terms of reference of the task team investigation, thus leading to the failure to complete its report in time.

Modise undertook to have the report ready for presentation within three weeks, since she had decided to amend and streamline the terms of reference set by her predecessor.

According to Modise, the issues that the task ought to investigate were straightforward – who approved the procurement using what authority, and who the responsible role players were.

Members of the committee were furious, saying it appeared there was a deliberate attempt to sweep “this wasteful expenditure” under the carpet.  

Not under her watch, Modise replied, putting her head on the block by saying that those responsible will be shown the door.

“The defence in SA is put under civilian authority. There is a minister of health, and Covid-19 became a pandemic, which was looked at with all strategies controlled at a central point in government. The point is, who authorised this without the health department?

“So the main question for me has been where was the decision taken, why was that decision taken, how was the procurement done, who was responsible for signing off? Those are the areas the task team must answer.

“The procurement processes must be followed. I cannot wake up tomorrow and say I want a helicopter and it is procured. I cannot decide tomorrow that one country produces better Aspirin than we do and I want that Aspirin here, it must be procured immediately.

“We must subject ourselves to processes, regulations and laws of this country.

“There is no way heads are not going to roll. The procurement systems were rubbished so there is no way heads are not going to roll. So chairperson you can rest assured on that one, heads will roll on this matter,” said Modise.


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