I didn’t seek parliamentary approval for Sputnik V deal with Sheik Maktoum – Health Minister
The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has admitted to circumventing laid down procedures in the procurement of COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccines through an intermediary, Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al-Maktoum.
According to Agyeman-Manu, there was a desperate need to procure the vaccines for the country due to rising cases and deaths, hence the deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal.
The government engaged 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.
The minister was in Parliament for the second time on Monday, July 19, to answer questions on the contract.
He told the nine-member parliamentary committee that he did not seek legislative approval before he sanctioned the deal but he had “plans to come and regularize, seek parliamentary approval after I have signed the contract”.
His attention was drawn to the fact that a Supreme Court ruling had directed that such contracts undergo parliamentary endorsement before execution.
Even though Agyeman-Manu acknowledged the procedure, he explained that his frustration to get vaccines for the country in the thick of a second wave compelled him to fall on “Executive Instrument 61 which was passed by Parliament”.
Pressed further, he said the country was not in normal times and he was faced with a situation “that could not make me think properly the way we think now”.
According to him, since it was an emergency, he decided to proceed with the deal first and later bring it before Parliament for legislative support.
“I seriously made that error [but] on hindsight it will not happen any longer,” he tried to assure the committee.
The Health Minister signed the deal on March 9 before making efforts to reach manufacturers of the vaccine in Russia.
Records show that he contacted the Russian government on March 23, two weeks after sealing the contract with the middlemen.
But he insisted he did that due to the circumstances at the time and things “would have been different if it were now”.
At the first hearing on July 15, Agyeman-Manu told Parliament that the contract for the procurement of Sputnik V vaccines through the intermediary has been cancelled.
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,” Agyeman-Manu stressed.
The government’s contract with Sheik Al Maktoum
The deal resulted in a 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, Kwaku Boadu Oku-Afari, explained that the government resorted to the intermediary because several efforts to acquire the vaccines from the Russian government directly were 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, Health Minister Agyeman-Manu explained that his outfit’s 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,” Agyeman-Manu said at the time.
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 raised eyebrows.
According to the minister, 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 that country’s government’s willingness to export doses.
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.
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.
“[W]hen we delayed, they sold their stock, but the government is committed that no matter what we will find vaccines for the people,” said the minister.
“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 3rd 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.
A little over one million doses have reportedly been given in Ghana, with only about 300,000 of the 30 million population fully vaccinated since March of this year.