Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro said his hands were clean in the US$6 million COVID-19 procurement scam in which he is implicated. Mangwiro said to date the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) had not approached him to investigate the case.
THE INTERVIEW BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
The deputy minister also said Zimbabwe might be forced to go into another level one COVID-19 lockdown if coronavirus cases continue to rise. This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently warned of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and cases of the disease are rising in the country, with Bulawayo as the epicentre. The following are excerpts of an interview between JOHN Mangwiro (JM) and NewsDay senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya (ND).
ND: There are allegations that government is failing to manage theft and misuse of COVID-19 funds by public officials?
JM: Resources meant for the fight against COVID-19 should be used accordingly. President Emmerson Mnangagwa is very clear on corruption. He is saying: “No”. The government does not condone corruption. There are no two ways for corrupt public officials. Offenders will face the long arm of the law.
ND: But recently, you were fingered in a US$5,6 million COVID-19 tender scam?
JM: I never influenced any tender-awarding process. That was bad publicity which was aimed to tarnish my image for reasons I do not know. Up to now, no official from Zacc has interviewed me on the matter. I was called by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga (Health minister) ordering me to hasten the procurement of the personal protective equipment (PPE) since there was a spike in COVID-19 cases that time.
As health workers, we deal with emergency issues and so we cannot wait for tomorrow in emergency cases. I had to convene a meeting that night at around 9pm. However, everything was done procedurally and transparently. All the interested parties in the bidding were present. I even invited the Health ministry lawyer who was present during the whole procurement process until the tender was awarded. I am a health practitioner with a great ambition to see efficient service delivery and I would never attempt to steal from government, when I see others being prosecuted for such crimes.
Those negative reports will not stop me from working hard in ensuring that Zimbabweans get the best health services. My major focus is on fighting the deadly virus. As a health government official, I urge citizens to wear masks, exercise social distancing, wash hands and sanitise, to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
ND: There are warnings of a second wave of coronavirus. How prepared is the government in managing the pandemic?
JM: Government is monitoring closely the trends of COVID-19 cases in the country. We have embarked on various projects on manufacturing of PPE locally for frontline workers. Government has also funded local companies and tertiary health institutions for manufacturing of PPE and sanitisers.
Government is in the process of upgrading more health institutions so that if the disease hits hard on us, all patients will be accommodated in fully-equipped health facilities. But what we are advocating for mostly is for people to protect themselves from contracting the disease through practising the set out preventive measures.
Government is also wary of returnees who enter the country through illegal entry points, which is resulting in social interaction of positive patients and those that are negative. We are working on putting in place strict border control measures to stop border jumping which contributes mostly to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Our frontline health personnel are also now knowledgeable of the disease hence they are fully prepared to manage patients and situations related to the disease.
ND: Is there any possibility that the government could impose another level one lock down?
JM: Yes, some European countries have already gone back to level one lockdown. The second wave of the disease is aggressive so people still need to continue exercising the precautionary measures. Figures might continue to rise in the country if people continue in the relaxation mood.
Some people have already dumped masks, while others are not putting on the masks properly, shaking hands has resurfaced and social distancing is now a tale in most public spaces. That the government relaxed some restrictions does not mean that people should also stop exercising those precautionary measures to prevent transmission and contracting.
Adhering to such preventive measures helped us control the disease when it was on its peak early this year, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Our experience with the pandemic has proved that a strict lockdown, although with its own disadvantages, is very effective in controlling the disease. What is most important is to save lives. If need be, government has to impose another lockdown.
However, government still continues to encourage citizens to exercise precautionary measures to keep the figures low.
ND: What can you say are the major improvements in the health sector since you assumed your position?
JM: The health sector had been facing challenges of shortages of drugs and scarce foreign currency to import all the required drugs. The current government’s approach is that we are going to manufacture drugs locally so that medicines become affordable to every citizen. Government is also making efforts to ensure that health workers are well looked after to boost their morale and ensure maximum and efficient health care in hospitals.
The government is not only looking at the workers’ salaries but also at non-monetary incentives which include provision of free accommodation at their workplaces. Health workers should be provided with transport to go to work.
Hospitals will be fully-equipped so that personnel perform their duties to their full capabilities without hindrance. Plans are also there to construct houses for health workers. Government is also satisfied with how it managed COVID-19, a global pandemic which left a trail of destruction in many countries, but we made efforts to minimise loss of lives in the country.
ND: What can you say are the challenges faced by the government in fighting COVID-19?
JM: When the disease first hit the country, the government wasn’t fully equipped with the essential resources. We didn’t have enough medical facilities to cater for patients and PPE for frontline workers.
There were no ventilators in hospitals, which also did not have proper running intensive care units. However, government is still working on improving health facilities not only for the coronavirus pandemic but for various other health problems. We are now manufacturing our own PPE to minimise costs on importing.
The public also had limited information on the disease, but government, through both public and private media, intensified awareness such
that people quickly understood the prescriptions of the diseases and adhered to the WHO guidelines.