The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has confiscated a Chinese medicine container that was blocked at a Namibian port last year for alleged poor quality and lack of import documentation.
The consignment, impounded at the port of Walvis Bay, was the subject of a multi-pronged investigation.
It was rejected by the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council (NMRC) after three of the nine samples failed laboratory tests conducted at the regulator’s request.
ACC director general Paulus Noa confirmed to The Namibian that they had seized the container last week.
He added that they will conduct their own probe and make a declaration on the matter.
“I will not talk much about the container right now because our investigations are ongoing, but I can confirm that we seized the container,” he said.
Government officials familiar with the matter said the ACC confiscated 1 300 boxes of medicine containing 500 tablets each.
The boxes are also labelled GRN-MoHSS (Government, Republic of Namibia – Ministry of Health and Social Services).
The ACC investigation will also look into how the supplier, NM Medicals CC – at some point after the container was impounded – claimed the medicine in the container was in fact destined for Kenya and not Namibia, while the boxes in the container are labelled ‘GRN-MoHSS’.
Fabiola Vahekeni, a government medical stores procurement officer, is accused of being central to the awarding of the tender to NM Medicals CC.
That company is owned by Vahekeni’s former business partners and close friends, Taimi Amakutuwa and Meameno Nghikembua.
The Namibian has learned that the ACC is probing allegations of corruption related to the tender process leading to the award of that tender.
Government sources briefed on the matter said the ACC considers the contents of the container proceeds of crime because of the manner in which the tender was awarded.
Sources said the container will be branded as such until proven otherwise.
The Namibian has also learned that part of the charges relates to a contravention of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act. This is because the medicine in question arrived in Namibia without the required certifications and licensing.
The ACC’s probe has been extended to all Central Medical Stores officials who played a role in ensuring that NM Medicals landed the medical supply contract.
The owners of NM Medicals and their foreign business associates now find themselves under the microscope for the manner in which they attempted to bring the medicine into Namibia.
NM Medicals has in the past scooped medical supply contracts valued at over N$14 million, while the latest shipment was valued at N$7 million.
Health executive director Ben Nangombe told The Namibian on Tuesday he was aware of the seizure, and that the ministry was also conducting its own processes on the matter.
The ministry has in the past defended the consignment from China, and urged customs officials to release the medicine because it is in short supply in the country.
However, the finance ministry insisted that the medicine should not be allowed into the country because it does not meet the standard import requirements.
The container was initially intercepted at the Walvis Bay harbour in September 2018 when the World Customs Organisation launched what it called ‘Operation Mirage’.
This operation targeted 14 ports in Africa in eight days to provide an insight into the flow of fake medicine into Africa.
The World Customs Organisation produced a report titled ‘Combating counterfeiting and piracy’.
“After consulting the NMRC, Namibian customs seized a full container of unauthorised antibiotics,” the report said.
CHINESE HIT BACK
ReYoung, the Chinese medicine manufacturer of the captured medicine, issued a statement three weeks ago, defending its product.
The statement, issued by Wang Shijun, states that the Chinese medicines manufacturer was only informed about serious quality issues of their products through The Namibian newspaper.
“We immediately appointed a third party, WHO Pre-Qualified Laboratory in South Africa, to validate the quality of the same batches of the medicine that had allegedly “failed” tests,” the company said in a statement.
According to the company, their South African lab tests show that the said three batches passed, contradicting earlier state- sanctioned tests.
“As a reputable company that has supplied medicine to the Namibian health system, we were saddened by the turn of events. We had to discover this through the media, without receiving an official communication from the NMRC. We, therefore, through the same media, kindly request the NMRC to furnish us with the full test reports of three ‘failed’ batches in order to analyse the reasons [that] resulted in negative testing results”.