Govt terminates Sputnik vaccine deal with UAE middleman Sheik Al Maktoum
The Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has disclosed that the contract for the procurement of Sputnik V vaccines through an intermediary, Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, has been cancelled.
He made the disclosure on Thursday, July 15, 2021, when he appeared before a nine-member parliamentary committee tasked to probe the contract.
He said that the decision was due to the inability of the intermediary to supply the vaccines after failing to meet several deadlines.
Mr Agyeman-Manu explained that the intermediary gave the ministry a verbal notice, indicating that he was struggling to get the vaccines for the country, as the contract required.
“So we requested that they terminate the agreement, which they have actually done. So, as we sit here, there is no contract between the two of us,” he said.
Chronicling the series of events that resulted in the termination of the contract, he said, “After we had signed the contract, they gave us two weeks to supply the first 300,000 we have ordered based on our [government] ability to give them letters of credit. But, unfortunately, our letters of credit were delayed.”
He continued: “Then they came back after they had confirmed that they had run out of stock. So they were going to restock and supply ours in two weeks. After two weeks, we enquired, and they said that they had still not got to the manufacturers.
“We have since been pressurising them to get us the vaccine but to no avail, and then they gave us verbal notice that they will not be able to supply any longer. Yesterday, they sent a formal letter,” he recounted.
Reading a portion of a letter from the Sheikh concerning the termination of the contract, he said:
“Given our cordial relationship with the government, we wish to terminate the vaccine supply agreement. We hope that when the supplies are restored, we will be able to re-engage on new terms and follow the due process for that purpose”.
The minister also said that he would not engage in another COVID-19 vaccine contract with an intermediary due to the turn of events.
“Presently, if you ask me whether I will go back for a private thing or not, my answer will be no. Because my appetite and the enthusiasm that we had around that time to sign that contract is no more there,” Mr Agyeman-Manu stressed.
Through a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide known as COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, Ghana received close to one million jabs for its vaccination programme.
Mr Agyeman-Manu told the committee that “the deliberate schedules that have been promised by COVAX is very close now. We are now about mid-July, and by early August, we may begin to receive doses from COVAX.”
The government’s contract with Sheik Al Maktoum
The government engaged Sheik Al Maktoum through a contract that saw the country procuring Sputnik V vaccines at a unit cost of $19 instead of the ex-factory price of $10 per dose.
This resulted in public outcry, but the ministry of health quickly responded to the issue and defended the decision.
The ministry believed that the government did no wrong in buying Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine at an exorbitant price because it was due to the involvement of middlemen.
The Chief Director at the ministry, Mr Kwaku Boadu Oku-Afari, explained that the government resorted to the intermediary because several efforts to acquire the vaccines from the Russian government directly was to no avail.
In a press release dated June 9, 2021, he explained that they got an offer from the private office of Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the supply of a total quantity of 3.4 million doses of Sputnik V vaccines, at a unit cost of US$19.
Taking his turn to address the media on Wednesday, June 16, Mr Agyeman-Manu explained that their first effort was a bilateral engagement with Russia, which “yielded no significant results”.
“We had to write to the Foreign Minister of Russia, we wrote to the Health Minister of Russia, we wrote to the Trade Minister of Russia trying to see how they can facilitate so we could buy the vaccine from the manufacturers. But all these didn’t yield any responses or any significant results, to the extent that we even invited the Russian ambassador for an engagement but he couldn’t facilitate the trade”.
Ghana was one of three countries that availed itself for Sputnik V vaccine trials, so the failure to procure the vaccine at a relatively cheaper cost has raised eyebrows.
According to Mr Agyeman-Manu, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) had approved only two vaccines, the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V.
AstraZeneca is produced in India, but the country suffered a high rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths, affecting export.
The minister indicated that they decided to purchase Russian’s Sputnik V after India announced the closure of borders because of a third wave of the virus.
“We, therefore, had no option than to engage middlemen to see how they can help secure the vaccine,” he justified.
Mr Agyeman Manu said the government had two contracts for consideration.
“In the process, we signed two agreements, one that was going to sell vaccines to us at $19 and the other at $18.5. These agreements were with the view that it will only become operational after we have placed orders and have issued letters of credit,” he noted.
But the government missed out on the $18.5 because it delayed in issuing a letter of credit.
“…when we delayed, they sold their stock, but the government is committed that no matter what we will find vaccines for the people”.
“The $19, we had a deliberate schedule that would span between 3months to July. The first tranche was 300,000 that was issued on LC4, but the supplier could not deliver. They said they had run out of stock, and he could only deliver in July,” he added.
Additionally, Ghana placed orders with the Africa Medicines Platform.
The minister was optimistic that “the first batch of vaccines from that window would arrive in Ghana in August”.
Red flags by Norwegian news outlet
The ministry’s response followed the publication by a Norwegian newspaper, Verdens Gang, on June 3.
The publication alleged that Ghana reached an agreement on 3.4 million vaccine doses after health officials had been shown boxes containing 16,000 doses.
They raised concerns about the involvement of the middlemen who are making huge profits from the deal.
“It is 3 March and the moment of truth for Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu. A flight from the Emirates is taxiing to the terminal in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where the Minister of Health is waiting. Out step two men: One is a Sheikh and second cousin of the ruler of Dubai. The other has been on the run from Norwegian police for years.
Six days later, the Ministry of Health in Ghana signs an agreement with the Sheik. They announce that they have reached an agreement regarding the purchase of 3.4 million vaccine doses. No price is publicly disclosed,” the report said.
However, Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta, said they took action to save the lives of Ghanaians due to the difficulty in getting the vaccines from the manufacturer.
“I don’t know. You know, you are confronted with “the good guys” from the West not giving you any assurances of supply [of vaccines], and you have 30 million people and are to save lives. You know, it’s easy to sit somewhere else and say: Why are you doing this? But you need to make sure you protect your people. You manage that as well as you can. This is all a contrived and manufactured crisis because clearly there are enough [vaccines] to go around if only there was equity and justice in what we are doing.”
Justification by Parliament’s Health Committee
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Parliament’s Health Committee, Dr Nana Ayew Afriyie, maintained that the persons involved in the deal had not fleeced Ghana.
“We have not been swindled as a State. Even though we are in a desperate state to get vaccines, the government’s policy, which is a very good one, is to get business persons to go into the Sputnik V space.
“Yes, the factory price is US$ 10, but when you get expatriates, and it gets out of the factory, there are a lot of factors that come in, including the profit, commission and freight to Ghana. So you don’t expect a vaccine that costs US$ 10 at the factory to be the same price when it arrives in Ghana, especially when a middleman is getting it,” he told Joy FM.
But the ranking member on Parliament’s Health Committee, Kwabena Mintah Akandoh, found the government’s explanations untenable.
For him, “the right thing must be done so that we don’t create any desperate situation to attempt to milk the system”.
He questioned why the government could not deal with the manufacturer directly or join the AU or the COVAX facility under which Ghana acquired the vaccines that have been administered so far.
Ghana received 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula in February 2021 to commence the vaccination programmes with the targets of reaching 20million residents.
In May, 350,000 doses of the same Oxford/AstraZeneca was received by Ghana for the second jabs to be administered to ensure maximum protection against contracting the infection.
About 900,000 people have received the vaccines as the government makes efforts to expand the vaccination programme.