Minister admits wrong judgement in Sputnik-V deal

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu
Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu

The Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has admitted to committing “an error” in signing the contract agreement between the government and Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum for the procurement and supply of 3.4 million of Sputnik-V vaccines at the unit cost of $19 per dose.

He said he started negotiation for COVID-19 vaccines with private people including Sheik Al Maktoum on March 3, 2021 and signed the contract agreement with the Sheikh, who is a member of the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai on March 9, 2021, failing to seek both parliamentary and Cabinet approvals.

According to him, although he was aware of the Supreme Court ruling in the case - Attorney-General vs Balkan Energy Ghana Limited and others - that required that transactions of international nature in line with Article 198(5) of the Constitution must seek prior parliamentary approval, he failed to go by such provisions.

“I appreciate the ruling of the Supreme Court but because of my desperation and frustration to try to get a vaccine for us at the heat of our second wave, I relied on the Executive Instrument (E.I.) 61 that was passed by Parliament to hide behind the emergency clauses that had been invoked to try to see if I could do that and come to Parliament to inform Parliament that this is what I have done and therefore I need approval to cover it because we were in dire need of vaccines,” he said.

Making a second appearance before the nine-member ad-hoc committee probing the contract agreement in Parliament on Monday, July 19, Mr Agyeman-Manu said since he had the onus to try and procure the vaccines to protect the lives of Ghanaians, he had to rely on E.I. 61 to procure the vaccines.

Read also: Controversial Sputnik-V supply contract abrogated

Subsidiary legislation

When the Chairman of the committee, Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin, asked him if he was aware that the E.I. was a subsidiary legislation, he answered: “Honourable chair, I must be very honest with you, at the time my frustration was the fact that I seriously made that error and on hindsight it will not happen any longer.”

He added: “ February this year was the worst month since COVID-19 hit our shores and people were dying. We lost 78 lives and in March, 56 lives and these were the numbers. If any of us here were the Health Minister at the time you might have taken certain decisions that on hindsight, going forward, you may not have done. “

Furthermore, Mr Agyeman-Manu stated: “This was the environment that I found myself in; people were dying and we needed to protect our citizens. I want you to bear these things in mind that I was not in normal times at all and therefore certain things could have been done which did not conform to the normal.”

Read also: Sputnik V US$19 per dose: Ghana was unable to obtain direct supplies from Russia - MoH

Pricing

When the Vice Chairman of the committee, Kwabena Mintah Akandoh asked if he (minister) found nothing wrong with Sputnik-V vaccines being procured at $19 per dose as against $10 ex-factory price, Mr Agyeman-Manu said: “I find so many things wrong with it but I was in the market where I could not dictate to the supplier and my negotiation was all the best I could get from the market.”

The minister was joined by the three officials from the Ministry of Health (MoH) made up of the Chief Director, Mr Kwabena Oko Afari; the Head of the Legal Department, Alhaji Yussif Inuah, and the acting Director of Procurement, Mr Romeo Kofi Tetteh.

Agreement

Per the agreement, a total of 3.4 million of Sputnik-V vaccines were to be procured and supplied to Ghana at US$19 excluding taxes at a total price of GH¢64 million as against the US$10 per dose ex-factory prices on the global market.

When the minister first appeared before the committee on July 14, 2021, he disclosed that the private office of Sheikh Dalmook Al Maktoum wrote to him to terminate the contract due to the challenges the company was facing to source and supply the first 300,000 doses that were to be delivered within two weeks.

‘I could not think properly’

Mr Agyeman-Manu was taken on by Mr Akandoh, who asked why he did not take advantage of conventions and rules governing the emergency situation in Parliament including appearing before the relevant committee to make a case for the purchase of Sputnik-V vaccines.

Responding, he said: “Those were not normal times and I was seriously in a situation that could not make me think properly.”

Furthermore, when he was asked why he could not make a case for the emergency situation on the same day Parliament dealt with issues and motions on COVID-19 on the floor of the House, including the consideration of the $1.2 billion and $100 million facilities from the World Bank when he appeared before the Health Committee, the minister said: “I could have done that but the circumstances at the time were a little bit different.”

According to him, he started to deal with the Sheikh before making frantic efforts to get the vaccines from the right sources.

Why Sheik Al Maktoum

The minister said when the MoH started looking for Sputnik-V vaccines, he and other officials from the ministry relied on COVAXX and the African Medicines Supply Platform but such efforts failed when India stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccines.

Moreover, he said when the African Medicines Supply Platform informed him that they could not supply vaccines until August, this year, he was motivated to begin to explore some agreements with private entities to get the vaccines until he heard of Sheikh Al Maktoum.

Quizzed why he did not rely on the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) prior to signing the agreement with Sheikh Al Maktoum, the Dormaa Central MP said it was the Maktoum Group that made him aware of the arrangement they had with the RDIF themselves.

“Not until that time, I never even thought RDIF was the sole agent that was distributing vaccines on behalf of the manufacturer, Gamaleya National Center of Russia,” he said.

Establishing contact with the private office of Sheikh Al Maktoum, he told the committee that he had no option but to ask the businessman to show availability of the stock he claimed he could sell to Ghana.

According to him, the businessman, who had earlier given an assurance to supply 20,000 doses, came to Ghana with 15,000 doses of Sputnik-V vaccines on March 3, 2020 and promised to top up later with the remaining 5,000 doses.

“When he came, as a businessman he was rushing to go back to do his business so we had to sit to negotiate to see if we could get the contract done,” he said.

Liability bearer

Asked who would bear the consequences in the likely event of an adverse effect of Sputnik-V vaccines on those who had taken the vaccines, the minister said the liability would be borne by the manufacturer.

“The indemnity issue is captured in the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) approval of the vaccines to be utilised in-country. The FDA places that liability on the manufacturer during the approval regime,” he added.

Seeking parliamentary approval

Denying that he deliberately refused to seek parliamentary approval, Mr Agyemang-Manu said he had intended to go to Parliament to regularise the contract agreement he signed after he had the Attorney-General’s counsel.

However, he said when he realised that the contract would not be executed since the businessman could not supply the vaccines, he hesitated.

He, therefore, gave an assurance to move to Parliament to seek approval for the 20,000 vaccines that had so far been supplied by the businessman.