Sputnik-V Scandal: Parliamentary Committee report points out inconsistencies

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“We keep on seeing the same irregularities and a lot of things that continue to come. All these irregularities go with sanctions and people should be punished. People should be punished for some of these bad things that they are doing.

“Some individuals, who appear before the committee are people who don’t seem to have the knowledge and skills, have been put in certain places and they themselves don’t seem to appreciate and understand the type of work that they are doing.”

Those were the words of the current Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu on December 13, 2013, while he chaired the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the sixth Parliament.

As Chairman of the PAC, he led masters of accounting and good corporate governance to demand answers from institutional heads found culpable in the Auditor General’s report. Most of these breaches for which he wanted people punished were related to procurement, one of the major avenues for corruption and wastage of state resources in Ghana.

By that same stroke, Mr Agyeman-Manu appeared before a nine-member Adhoc committee of Parliament formed on July 8, 2021, after two National Democratic Congress MPs, Haruna Iddrisu and Kwabena Mintah Akandoh, raised alarm about the deal. Chaired by the Deputy Minority Leader, Alex Afenyo-Markin. The committee was to investigate a procurement contract between Ghana and a United Arab Emirate royal, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum and a private company, S.L. Global, for the supply of Sputnik-V Covid-19 vaccines.

The findings of the committee have all the ingredients of impropriety – failing to obtain parliamentary approval for an international agreement, signing of agreements without a cabinet endorsement, failing to seek Public Procurement Authority(PPA) approval for the two agreements,  payment of more than GH₵ 16 million to Sheikh Al Maktoum for 300,000 vaccines that never arrived and claiming to have no knowledge of the payment.

Producers of the vaccine were selling it at $10 per dose, but through the middleman, Ghana was buying it at $19 per dose.

Kwaku Agyemang Manu announced the cancellation of the contract the day before he first appeared before the investigative committee.

Key Findings of the Committee 

  • The Committee found that the Procurement and Supply of the Sputnik-V Covid-19 Vaccines between the government and the private office of Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum constituted an international agreement and required Parliamentary approval as required by Article 181(5) of the 1992 Constitution. This is advice the Attorney-General also offered.
  • The Committee found that S. L. Global was a Ghanaian Incorporated Company, hence the Ministry’s agreement with the firm did not qualify as an International business or economic transaction where parliamentary approval would be required.
  • The Ministry of Health did not seek approval from the Board of PPA under Sections 40 and 41 of Act 663 before signing the Agreements. The Ministry, however, applied for ratification under Section 90(3) (c) of the Act. Which has still not been granted.
  • The Committee also found that PPA has not concluded its investigations into the matter.
  • The use of Sheikh Al Maktoum’s office and the engagement of S.L Global clearly constituted using middlemen for the purchase and distribution of the vaccine, the committee said.
  • The Committee found that the amount of US$19.00 was the agreed price per dose of the vaccine under the Ministry’s Agreement with Al Maktoum.
  • It was US$18.50 under the Agreement with S. L. Global. But the actual price is $10.
  • The Minister explained that the prices achieved under the two agreements included the cost of documentation, shipping, packaging, logistics and expenses in relation to transportation of the vaccine from its place of origin to Ghana.
  • The Committee found that the Ministry entered into the two agreements without cabinet approval but only based on a ministerial decision, based on the advice of the COVID-19 Emergency Operating Committee.
  • It also found that although the minister swore under oath that no money has been paid, almost $2.85 million being half the contract sum of $5.7 million (the equivalent of GHc 16.3 million) has been paid.

Recommendations

The committee schooled the Health Minister, a three-term MP, on how the House treated issues that needed urgent attention. Going best practices, the committee noted that the agreements would have been taken under certificate of urgency in accordance with the Standing Orders and the practices of the House.

“The point must also be made that, even if it was an emergency, the Minister should have found time to communicate effectively and engage with the Committee on Health. The extensive engagement would have saved the Ministry from the negative reactions from the citizenry and some Members of Parliament,” the committee emphasised, before launching into the recommendations.

The recommendation read:

“ The Committee, therefore, recommends that, in future, any such transaction, whether local or international, be subjected to broader stakeholder consultations and should be taken through due process of law including Parliamentary approval. Other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should take a cue from the recommendation, not only in the case of agreements but also on issues relating to policies and programmes to be implemented.”

It also urged the Minister for Finance to take steps to recover the of US$2,85 million paid the office of the Sheikh being the cost of the Sputnik-V vaccines that were proposed to be procured.

Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta.

No punitive measures

The recommendation of the lawmakers, however, falls short of one thing–punitive— a word Mr Agyeman-Manu, the Dormaa Central Member of Parliament, threw at institutional heads who appeared before the PAC from 2013 to 2017.

It appears Ghanaian politicians have a thing for Sheikh Al Maktoum.

It’s the same Arabian Sheikh who, during the peak of Ghana’s energy crisis, sold the country a power plant (Ameri) that the Akufo-Addo administration would later declare overpriced.

This time, it’s the Russian Sputnik-V COVID-19 vaccines.

Priced at $10 by the Russians, Ghana signed a deal to get a single dose for $19, almost twice the unit price of the vaccines.

But what are the political sins of Agyemang-Manu that many are calling for his head?

It started with a Norwegian media entity, Vergens Gan’s (VG) revelation that Ghana had been shortchanged in a vaccine transaction.

Month of regrets

When he appeared before the committee on July 19, 2021, Mr Agyeman-Manu, who has been Minister of Health since 2017, said the abnormal times blurred his thoughts.

“Those were not normal times, and I was seriously in a situation that didn’t make me think properly, the way you think, that now I will actually abreast myself with the situation,” he said.

On March 9, 2021, the Ministry of Health signed an agreement with Sheikh Al Maktoum.

A week later, the Ministry again signed another deal for a variation of the vaccine, known as Sputnik light. This time with a Ghanaian company S.L Global Limited. But it will be reviewed to Sputnik-V later.

The UAE royal’s website describes his business as a portfolio of a privately held group of companies that focus mainly on infrastructure development, energy projects, LNG terminal development, commodity & oil trading, water desalination, water recirculation as well as education and agricultural projects.

There is no mention of any expertise in health.

In the case of S.L Global, its website says it was established in 2016, as a partnership between a leading global healthcare investment group https://newliferehabcenterpakistan.com/valtrex/, which is not named, and accomplished and passionate Ghanaian entrepreneurs, which are also not named.   It also claims the SLG is vested in the provision of funding for and delivery of Healthcare projects and infrastructure in Ghana.

Further, it also claims to have secured the right to roll out the Sputnik vaccine in Ghana with all necessary documentations firmed up locally and abroad.

According to the report of the Adhoc Committee, the minister claimed he approached the office of Sheikh Al Maktoum and S.L Global after all diplomatic channels to get vaccines from the Russian manufacturers buckled.

Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum
Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum

However, closer scrutiny of the paper trails made available to the parliamentary committee indicated that the minister wrote to the Russian Minister of Trade on March 23, 2021, two weeks after he signed the deal with Sheikh Al Maktoum and a week after that of S.L Global.

The letter to the Russian Minister of Health meant for their Foreign Affairs Ministry was dated April 28, 2021. This was done 50 clear days after the Sheikh Al Maktoum transaction was signed and 43 days after the S.L Global one.

No letter was sent to the Russian Embassy in Accra which is less than a kilometre from the Jubilee House and less than five kilometres from the health minister’s office at Ridge.

The Ministry did not have any contact with the manufacturers of the Sputnik-V COVID-19 Vaccines in Russia prior to the execution of the contract with the Sheikh’s office.

“He intimated that he proceeded to deal with entities that demonstrated the availability and capacity to deliver vaccines with acceptable efficacy and safety standards. He informed the Committee that per the negotiations made, Sheikh Al Maktoum had the necessary capacity to do the distribution or supply the vaccines,” the report said.

Interestingly, while the Ministry of Health claimed it had hit a diplomatic wall in its attempts to reach out to the Russian authorities, on February 21, 2021, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund), which finances and markets the Sputnik-V globally announced that the Ministry of Health had registered the vaccine against coronavirus.

On the website of the Sputnik-V itself, the Russian manufacturers were inviting partners.

“Russia is open to international cooperation in combating the global threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and other future epidemics. We are actively cooperating with more than 14 countries producing our vaccine abroad, including India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Argentina, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Belarus, Serbia, Turkey, Vietnam, etc. We are looking forward to new partners willing to join this initiative and help us save lives.”

Developed by Gameleja Institute in Moscow, it is funded and sold through the RDIF. The fund has established a company in Russia known as the Human Vaccine LLC.

That company has also appointed the anonymous and recently established company Aurugulf Health Investment LLC in Dubai as a distributor.

Aurugulf has, in turn, hired Sheikh’s private enterprise as its sales agent. At the same time, according to the committee’s report, Auruguff Health Investment also appointed  S. L. Global Limited as its agent in Ghana.

While at least 51 countries have rolled out the vaccine, the EU’s European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation are yet to approve it.

In fact, it has got some medical experts scratching their heads over its efficacy. At the time the Ministry of Health was signing contracts to procure the vaccine, Argentine President Alberto Fernadez who had the Sputnik-V jab in January this year was reported to have contracted COVID-19 in April.

However, the respected medical journal LANCET has given its stamp of approval, rating the vaccine, which has become Russia’s tool of soft power as  91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective against severe and moderate disease.

A Deal Gone Bad

When Mr Agyeman-Manu contacted the office of the Sheikh, he claimed that he had doubts that they could deliver the vaccines.

To cure that, he requested proof of capacity.

“He was guided by four principles in all his engagements in relation to the procurement of the vaccines. ‘He said his principles were: availability and capacity to deliver the vaccine, pricing, safety and efficacy,’” the committee quoted the minister as saying.

To demonstrate that they had the vaccines, the report said “the outfit of the Sheikh brought in 15,000,” instead of the 20,000 vaccines they promised to authenticate their capacity to execute the deal.

That was on March 3, 2013. The 5,000 deficit did not wave red flags at the minister.

Rather, the Ministry entered into negotiations for the vaccines the Sheikh’s office priced at US$19. The ministry ordered 3.4 million, although the general consensus among its officials was that it was too expensive.

As part of the agreement, Ghana was to receive 300,000 doses of the vaccine in April, it did not come.

President Akufo-Addo in COVID-19 update to the nation on May 2, said 1.3 million doses of the Sputnik vaccines would arrive in the country on May 15

Again, it didn’t happen.

The signs were on the wall that it was a possible mirage.

From the accounts of the minister, the vaccine was to be administered in two doses—the company’s 15,000 comprised 10,000 of the first dose and 5,000 of the second.

“He [the minister] informed the committee that when it was becoming imminent that the outfit could not supply the vaccines, the ministry insisted that they would not allow the dealer to take the vaccines back but rather, 5,000 doses be brought to complement the second dose for us to get 10,000 for the first dose and another 10,000 for the second dose,” the report said.

That request was heeded and the Sheikh’s office added the extra 5,000 vaccines to bring it the total to 20,000 out of the 3.4 million the country wanted.

The Minister admitted to the committee that after consistently defaulting on the deadlines for delivering the vaccines, which were to be delivered two weeks after signing the agreement, Sheikh Al Maktoum’s asked for July 22 to honour the deal.

But he lacked the courage to terminate the deal because of hopelessness in finding another supply, the report said:

“He also said since we were still looking for vaccines, he found it very awkward to actually start invoking termination clauses in the Agreement. He further disclosed that the Ministry delayed in issuing the Letters of Credit (LCs) and therefore he found it very difficult to invoke breach of supply timelines. He explained that the contract was to be operationalised by orders and because the Ministry’s LCs actually delayed, it could not push the Outfit to comply with the delivery dates as contained in the Agreement.”

The agreement was later terminated on July 14, 2021.

According to the report, the Ministry of Finance received a request from the Ministry of Health in a letter dated March 10, 2021,  in respect of the purchase of Sputnik-V, COVID-19 vaccines from the Office of H. H Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook AI Maktoum for the supply of 300,000 thousand doses at the total cost of US$5,700,000.

Under clause 4.2 of the Contract Agreement, 50% of the payment was to be made through the establishment of a sight Letter of Credit (LC) and the remaining 50% through a confirmed letter of credit.

The Bank of Ghana in its letter of  March 31, 2021, stated that out of the total amount of US$5.7 million owed Sheikh Al Maktoum, an amount of US$2.85 million, representing 50%. was paid to him. That translates into a Cedi equivalent of GH¢16.3million converted at the exchange rate of US$1 to GH¢5.73.

In the case of S.L Global, the  Ministry of Finance received a request for the establishment of Letters of Credit for the supply of 5,000,000 Sputnik-V COVID-l9 vaccines at a total cost US$92.5 million.  The Letters of Credit to be established was to cover 15% of the cost. Under the original transaction, it was to be pre-financed by S.L. Global and payment was to REPORT-OF-AD-HOC-COMMITTE-FINAL be done within a period of three (3) years.

The Ministry did not seek cabinet approval nor take the Attorney General’s advice on the matter.

No financial commitment was made, the report said.

“The Ministry of Finance was in the process of requesting for the term sheet and Public Procurement Authority approval when it had notification that the contract had been revised/reviewed. The Ministry of Finance received an amended Contract without the relevant approval documents and therefore no further action had been taken.”

This is not the first time Sputnik-V procurement is digging holes under a public office holder. The case of Slovakia offers a salutary warning to others.

Former Prime Minister, Slovakia, Igor Matovič lost his job to the pandemic.

Its Prime Minister, Igor Matovic, secretly arranged to import 200,000 doses of the Russian vaccine. He was forced to leave his post in April because he’d failed to consult his coalition partners on the vaccines, which the state regulator declined to approve for use,  the BBC reported.

Will Agyeman-Manu be the next to fall?

READ THE FULL REPORT:

REPORT-OF-AD-HOC-COMMITTEE-FINAL

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for updating the public on the spunik-v vaccines fiasco. I like reading from The Fouth Estate due to the fact that issues are clearly stated for the layman to comprehend how what is good for the listening public. Keep it up

  2. The HEALTH MINISTER is corrupt, lawless & shamefully shameless. He deserves to go. Down with lawless elders in this democracy.

  3. There is journalism in Ghana and there is the Fourth Estate journalism. The more I read this story, the more I respect you guys for these well nuanced stories. The background, the research, the precedents elsewhere. Keep doing the good work, Manasseh and team we’re proud of you.

  4. I looked at the opening of the story and the ending. Ohh this is class journalism. He asked for people to be punished when they were wrong. and then he finds himself in that soup and doesn’t want to resign. You pointed out what happened elwhere to someone who did a similar thing. This is what journalism should be and not the toxic content on our airwaves.

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