THE Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reigned supreme yesterday, stinging like a bee, its witnesses.
Those who appeared before the Howard Kunda-chaired PAC were the Ministry of Health, Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS), Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZMRA) and scandal-ridden Honeybee Pharmacy.
ZMRA the director – laboratory services Bonaventure Chilinde, who is the Authority’s acting director general, had a tough time answering questions on how a pharmaceutical licence was hastily issued to Honeybee Pharmacy of Lusaka.
A pharmaceutical licence allows an entity either to deal in wholesaling of medicines or manufacturing of medicines.
“So, with Honeybee there were deficiencies that were noted. The team sat and evaluated how….” Chilinde said.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have the checklist [of deficiencies] with me. But there were deficiencies that were noted and the applicant was engaged and these issues were brought to their attention. Thereafter, the applicant was asked how they could deal with these matters.”
Kunda, the Muchinga MMD Member of Parliament, reminded Chilinde that the submitted ZMRA report indicated that Honeybee had 17 deficiencies, pertaining to their pursuit for a licence.
“Were you, in the second meeting, satisfied that these deficiencies would be dealt with – all of them?” an assertive Kunda asked.
Chilinde responded in the affirmative.
“Yes, chair. I would submit that that was the action taken by the Authority,” he said.
Kunda then asked how many days one application is supposed to take before approval.
“From within the Authority, we are supposed to expeditiously attend to our clients once they apply for any licences. And depending on the availability of our inspectors, especially those that are based in Lusaka, we could attend to them there and then,” Chilinde attempted to answer.
“But those that are outside Lusaka, it could take longer – even a week or two weeks.”
But Kunda repeated the question of: “how long does it take?”
Before Chilinde could come in, Senga Hill PF Member of Parliament Kapembwa Simbao contributed, saying: “I don’t think we are dealing with the right person!”
“How can a person come and sit before us and he doesn’t even know the number of deficiencies that they found? You’ve just told him [that it’s 17]. He had no idea what it is!” Simbao said.
“How do we accept such a person to sit before us? Thank you, chair.”
Kunda asked the ZMRA official if he was the right person to sit before the PAC and answer to questions. Chilinde agreed.
“Just give us your title again,” Kunda said, before Chilinde answered that: “I’m the director – laboratory services [but] I’m sitting in for the director general.”
Kunda asked where the substantive ZMRA director general was.
“She is currently on leave,” Chilinde answered.
“Currently on leave! And the importance of this meeting was not taken into consideration, for her to be here? Yes, director from ZMRA who is not giving us the information. Give us information!” Kunda said.
Chilinde responded: “chair, the facts I have given is what I’m aware of.”
Auditor General Dick Sichembe contributed and said Chilinde was not giving the correct picture and that he was simply misleading the parliamentary committee.
“From our audit, on the 27th, when the report came out with a recommendation of ‘don’t give Honeybee the licence, there were no minutes were an organisation or a group of people sat to give a decision that despite the report, we will give the licence to Honeybee tomorrow,’” explained Sichembe.
“So, when the report came out on 27th of August, what happened the following day, despite the report saying no, the licence was issued. Further, in 2020 when we went back to inspect on these deficiencies, that’s when some of the deficiencies were addressed. The report from ZMRA came out to say ‘this is the time now you can give Honeybee the licence.’ The report is here which is dated August 16, 2020.”
At this point, Kunda asked: “are you trying to mislead the committee or what?”
“I agree that there is no committee of the minutes and that is an oversight on our part. But the meeting was held,” Kunda said.
“This serious issue of giving a licence within three days, you need some form of evidence to show that this was done. These are government departments that need to follow the law. That’s why I’m asking you how long it takes to issue a licence. I’m sure there should be some timeframe to it that your institution operates within.”
Solwezi West UPND Member of Parliament Teddy Kasonso asked if people at ZMRA work on Saturdays and Sundays.
“No, chair – unless required for certain issues that we need to deal with,” Chilinde said.
Kasonso added: “so, in this particular case you were required to work on Saturdays and Sundays?”
“No, sir,” Chilinde replied.
Kasonso insisted that the report shows that the second meeting was held on Saturday and Sunday.
“What was special and urgent about this client?” he asked.
Kunda also said ZMRA officials worked on Saturday and Sunday to approve and issue the licence to Honeybee Pharmacy.
“I don’t have the records before me,” Chilinde said.
“You agreed that you acted on this issue expeditiously and obviously you should have known that you worked on Sunday and Saturday. How come you are saying you didn’t know whether it was a Saturday or Sunday?” Kunda asked.
“That licence was issued on 28 August 2019, which is Wednesday. Officers who sat to review the matter sat on the 27th and partly on the 28th of August . A second inspection was done on a Saturday, 15 August 2020 – a year later.”
Chilinde, in his complicated response, said he needed to submit that the licence which was issued in 2019 was based on the fact that the client (Honeybee Pharmacy) was to attend to certain deficiencies earlier noted.
Kunda asked what the urgency was about to issue the pharmaceutical licence.
“Our client was asking to visit them to check whether they had cleared the deficiencies which were noted earlier?” said Chilinde.
© Kalemba January 7, 2021