VICE-PRESIDENT and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga has dissolved the National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) board, while ministry principal director Gibson Mhlanga is in trouble over a Covid-19 material tender scam which sucked in Deputy Health minister John Mangwiro.
Legally, a parastatal board is appointed and dissolved by the minister.
The board, which was chaired by renowned medical practitioner Billy Rigava, comprising anaesthetist Northburga Harunavamwe Chifamba, procurement and supply specialist Johnson Shonhe, lawyer Rachel Chibaya and banker Gerald Gore, was kicked out during the first week of December last year.
Approached for comment, Rigava declined to discuss the matter, while Mangwiro’s mobile phone went unanswered several times yesterday.
Health ministry acting permanent secretary Robert Mudyiradima wrote the letters of dismissal, leaving the pharmaceutical company without a board at a time when the country is battling to contain Covid-19 which has to date killed over 1 200 people, including four ministers.
A seasoned medical practitioner, Mhlanga, who was Health ministry’s preventative services principal director, was caught in the crossfire as he was acting permanent secretary when the US$3,5 million Covid-19 materials tender raised questions.
Investigations show that Mhlanga was suspended, pending dismissal over alleged issuance of Covid-19 re-testing directive for travellers from Tanzania. However, the real bone of contention is said to be the Covid-19 tender in which Mangwiro allegedly influenced the granting of a tender to a company he had an interest in.
Former NatPharm acting managing director Zealous Nyabadza — suspected to be the Covid-19 materials scandal whistleblower — lost his job on January 6, 2021, after serving the company for 15 years.
Efforts to get Nyabadza to comment were futile as he also refused to entertain questions.
But details gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent show that as soon as the tender debacle exploded, Nyabadza was replaced by Air Commodore Gibson Dumba on October 1, 2020, as he was re-appointed acting operations manager. He was later re-assigned to his full-time role of information technology (IT) manager in December 2020.
Dumba was seconded to NatPharm from the Women Affairs, Community, Small-and-Medium Enterprises Development ministry, where he was principal director. He has no medical background fit to run a drug manufacturing entity.
As the NatPharm drama unfolded, on December 30, 2020, Dumba wrote a letter to Nyabadza re-appointing him IT manager.
The firm’s Mutare branch manager Kudakwashe Chimbarara then took over as operations manager.
Things came to a head on January 6, 2021, when Dumba terminated Nyabadza’s contract on three months’ notice.
Labour experts say the contract termination “without valid reasons” could be a clear violation of the Labour Act.
Nyabadza is likely to contest the dismissal at the Labour Court, in what could be a bruising legal battle.
It also emerged that after over a decade of loyal service at the pharmaceutical manufacturer, Nyabadza was forced out empty-handed.
Nyabadza’s exit came several weeks after the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) opened an investigation file — “Examination of Procurement Procedures for Tender Number — International Nat ITCB FWWK 04/2020 — Laboratory Equipment, Reagents and Consumables for Covid-19 Management at NatPharm (31 August-4 September 2020)”.
A Zacc official report implicated Mangwiro in alleged mishandling of a tender through issuing directives contrary to public procurement regulations.
Mangwiro has denied interfering with the Covid-19 materials tender describing the allegations as malicious and mischievous.