Misappropriation of funds crippling health care: TIZ

MANY of the challenges facing the health sector are being caused by the misappropriation of public funds that is costing the sector millions of dollars annually, a new Transparency International report shows.

A report titled Illicit Financing in The Public Health Sector in Zimbabwe by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ), released last week, states that many challenges facing health care are around misappropriated stated funds.

Last year, the Insurance and Pensions Commission found that only one in 10 Zimbabweans have medical cover in a country of over 14 million people, showing the majority of public health care funds are not going to the general population of Zimbabweans.

For 2021, the government allocated ZW$54,7 billion of the national budget’s ZW$360,5 billion to health and child care.

“Many of the challenges facing the health sector are worsened by the misappropriation of public funds for private gain in the form of illicit finance. Illicit economic activities contribute to the loss of wealth for the Government of Zimbabwe and citizens, depleting resources that could otherwise be invested in the public health system for health care worker salaries, procurement of medical supplies, and the rehabilitation and development of health infrastructure,” reads part of the TIZ report.

“The study found eight types of illicit finance in the health sector which fall into four categories … corrupt procurement, petty corruption, smuggling and theft. Smuggling and theft stand out as key illegal activities that give rise to the flow of illicit finance. These illegal activities, like petty corruption, take place in a dispersed manner and take advantage of a myriad of loopholes in legislation, weaknesses in enforcement and economic pressures for the availability of cheap medical supplies.”

During the procurement process, TIZ found that corruption occurs through the over-pricing of goods and services.

For example, TIZ highlighted a Health ministry audit of Chivhu General Hospital which found some prices of procured goods and services inflated by as much as 700%.

Another way illicit financing occurs is through the procurement of the wrong goods and services that end up causing money wastages.

“The quality of goods and services that are procured is frequently compromised as the best briber often receives a particular contract. This may lead to the delivery of equipment and supplies that are unusable, such as expired drugs,” reads the report. The study found that antiretroviral drugs are regularly delivered to health facilities close to their expiry dates and that contracted entities get away with delivering sub-standard foods because they bribe the public officials who are supposed to conduct quality control.”

The study also found cases whereby the government paid for goods and services that are never supplied.

“Public procurement abuse thrives due to a combination of factors. Weak institutions limit enforcement of the rules governing public tendering processes. Complex systems of political patronage incentivise abuse of public procurement and simultaneously shield the politically connected from sanction.

“Furthermore, unstable macroeconomic conditions further encourage public and private agents to take advantage of tendering processes.”

According to the report, abuse of power is at the centre of most illicit finances in health care, serving both to enable the initial act of corruption and to remove the threat of punishment.

“Corruption in public procurement occurs when civil servants or other officials contravene established procurement regulations to direct government tenders toward favoured suppliers or to facilitate kickbacks to themselves.”

The research team used a combination of secondary and primary sources as the basis for the research. These included media articles, academic journals, technical reports by the government and multilateral institutions as well as laws and policies to records of parliamentary discourse. — Staff Writer.