Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has joined investigations into the leaked K25 billion (about $83 million) drug tender scandal at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) in the country.

In last Friday’s exclusive story, The Nation revealed that acting registrar of the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Board (PMPB), Aaron Sosola, a member of the CMST technical committee, allegedly leaked confidential details of an impending K25 billion drug tender to prospective bidders.

This, according to procurement authorities, is contrary to procurement regulations.

Sosola is currently on interdiction as acting registrar of PMPB and has been suspended from the CMST Board.

When the leakage was exposed, CMST immediately set up teams to investigate the matter and, depending on the findings, may debar from all CMST procurement processes any officer and company that has been involved in the malpractice.

ACB establishing facts

On Wednesday, ACB confirmed investigating the matter to establish what exactly happened for possible prosecution of officers or companies involved.

“The Anti-Corruption Bureau received a complaint alleging corrupt practices in the leakage of tender documents from the Central Medical Stores. The bureau would like to establish circumstances surrounding the leakage and whether corrupt practices were involved or not,” said ACB senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala.

The Nation has gathered that last Thursday, ACB officers visited Unichem, a pharmaceutical wholesale company, in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre. They interviewed the firm’s managing partner, Majid Panjwani.

Whistle-blower

Panjwani claims to be the scandal’s whistle-blower—that Sosola allegedly leaked the tender documents to Crown Pharmaceuticals and Research Laboratories Limited—after being alerted by his principal suppliers in India, Lyka Pharmaceuticals and Exim Trac.

In an interview this week, Panjwani confirmed being interviewed by the ACB. He claimed the bureau recorded a statement from him on Wednesday this week following last Thursday’s interview.

When Panjwani got tipped off, he alerted the following people through e-mails: ACB assistant director of legal and prosecutions David Nyamirandu; board chairperson of PMPB, Charles Mwansambo; Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP); chairperson of the technical committee of the CMST, Wynn Chalira; group chief executive officer of Crown Pharmaceuticals, a Mr. G. Vijaykumar; Babu Mahomed, who is the company’s group chairperson and the company’s chief executive officer, a Mr. BS Shibu.

The communication was on August 25 2012 at 11:18 am.

His alleged e-mail, which The Nation has seen, reads in part: “Dear all, this is very interesting. Unichem-Malawi and Exim Trac-India made the arrangement for the CGMP Inspection for Lyka. What is surprising [is] how can a registrar of PMPB and member of Medical Buying Committee get to this level and pass classified information before the tender is officially announced? This is total misconduct and [abuse] of office for his own benefit.

“The same has been forwarded to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Office of the Director of Public Procurement, Central Medical Stores, Ministry of Health, chairperson of [PMMP], ACB and other stakeholders.”

Sosola’s communication

Sosola sent the alleged troubling e-mail to Lyka Pharmaceuticals on August 3 2012 at 8 pm and copied to Crown Pharmaceuticals bosses, Shibu and Vijaykumar.

Sosola’s e-mail has the subject: Malawi Tender/Aug 2012.

It says: “Dear Sir, I hope that you are fine today. Well, in accordance with our communication last Saturday, I hereby attach the [a]. Overview of Crown Pharmaceuticals & Research Laboratories Limited [If you need detailed information, it may be sent later]; [b]. The description and quantities of pharmaceuticals as per the tender document. You may quote the ones that you are able to supply.

“However, after that, as indicated earlier on, the local supplier’s [agent] delegation and myself are coming to India to meet you probably the week beginning August 13 2012. I hope to hear from you very soon.”

Sosola told The Nation of September 7 2012 and Weekend Nation of September 8 2012 that he had decided to remain silent.

Crown Pharmaceuticals’ Shibu promised to call back on Thursday for his response but he did not call back.

Meanwhile, an emergency board meeting was convened at the CMST on August 31 2012 where it was recommended that the officers in the CMST procurement section be deployed to other sections, according to a member of the technical committee.

The member said it is only the procurement section that prepares procurement documents and has soft copy of tenders as such, the team was suspected of having leaked the soft copy to Sosola.

But CMST chief executive officer Feston Kaupa said on Thursday that based on rules of natural justice, management has not deployed the procurement team to other sections until investigations into their alleged conduct are concluded.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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