Leaking money during a recession

28 July 2017
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The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MHSS) has been thrust into the limelight as a place where corruption, malfeasance, and self-enrichment may have been thriving for some time.
The ministry charged with keeping the nation healthy is apparently leaking money during a recession, and that is the real crime.
In these tough economic times, every single Government penny is needed in the service of the people and not in the side accounts and shady pockets of unscrupulous people, whether they lurk in ministries embezzling funds or break in at night and steal office equipment.
In January 2016, the Windhoek Observer reported about critically needed ARV medicines being ordered by the health ministry outside of the normal tender process.  Tens of millions were sent in relatively short order to a foreign country to buy medicines from a company that was not a regular vendor; this raised flags for us.  As a result of that article, we were lambasted by Health Minister Bernard Haufiku and effectively blacklisted for all MHSS ads, interviews and access.
We stood by our story which was written with the information provided by officials interviewed.  Given the current revelations at the ministry, we are vindicated now regarding the overall issues we raised. 
In that previous article, Permanent Secretary Dr Andreas Mwoombola said there was nothing amiss about the decision taken by the ministry to pay N$64 million to a Ugandan company for the emergency restock of ARVs without going to tender as the regulations require. 
Those comments about the ‘emergency’ purchase were from the same Mwoombola who has now been suspended as the Anti-Corruption Commission investigates allegations of irregularly awarded tenders. 
Who is watching the individuals that have the power to spend tens of millions of tax payer dollars outside of the checks-and-balances processes?  We asked that question then and we are asking it again now.
Reports have surfaced that Mwoombola may have arranged over N$250 million in inflated tenders.  The implicated officials are alleged to have created crises that resulted in the ministry paying higher prices for items than would ordinarily have been required.
To compound the cloud of corruption hovering over MHSS right now, a ministry official stands accused of stealing and selling ministry vehicles and pocketing the revenues. 
The number of cars allegedly sold in this clandestine and illegal manner is 50, but the police who arrested the accused official, say that this activity had been going on for some time, implying that the final number of cars sold under-the-table may be far more than 50.
The discussion about the current scandal must include last year’s arrest of eight employees on 426 charges of fraud involving over N$2 million. 
The spectre of corruption is pervasive when people are caught-out and exposed; particularly if the chief financial officer of the ministry may be involved.
It begs the question of how many other incidences of theft, embezzlement or inflated procurements sent to companies owned by officials at MHSS have gone unnoticed by the system over time.  We hope the ACC investigation will go back over many years to establish criminal patterns and uncover other cases.
The victims of any crime proven at MHSS or any other ministry or agency are the Namibian people who are desperately in need of proper services.  Hospitals in the North have run out of health passports.  Key medicines needed from pharmaceutical suppliers are once again running short as invoices are in arrears and restock is not ensured.
Nurses in State hospitals are complaining about lack of overtime payments, basic supplies are thin on the ground and the MHSS has insufficient funds for timely resupply.
The regions have been faced with shortages of fully equipped ambulances and drivers at health facilities and referral hospitals face a shortage of available beds.  Budget cuts have made the ministry’s already tight finances, even more untenable and the situation will likely get worse before it gets better. 
Meanwhile, officials in the ministry are accused of lining their own pockets seemingly at the expense of the health and well-being of Namibian people.  This is outrageous.
The healthcare system is the heartbeat of the nation.  We need to support the Minister of Health and Social Services as he manages the difficulties his ministry now faces - it is not an easy task. 
If our people cannot receive the healthcare services they need due to lack of funds, while thieves are enjoying their selfish benefits, what will happen to the Namibian heartbeat then?
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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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