By Tileni Mongudhi, Mathias Haufiku | 10 June 2019
This is after he spearheaded a secret meeting some see as aimed to plot the release of the consignment amid a probe by the medicine control body and customs.
The alleged secret meeting was held on 2 June 2019, a night before officials of the ministries of health, finance, and the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council (NMRC) met to decide whether to keep or destroy the container. Not only is the paperwork for the import of the drugs under question, but a limited laboratory test has shown that the medicine may be substandard.
Among the people Nangombe invited to the meeting last Sunday was Central Medical Stores senior procurement pharmacist, Fabiola Vahekeni, who is under investigation for allegedly helping to award the tender to her friends and former business partners.
Nangombe, who confirmed the meeting took place at his office, has dismissed suggestions that there was anything untoward. He said they met merely for briefing purposes to help him prepare for the following days inter-ministerial encounter.Nangombe defended the ministrys stance that he is acting in the public interest.
‚ÄúI dont want people to die because of a technicality; that would be outrightly irresponsible. I will not allow Namibians to die without putting up a fight,‚Äù he said.
Top health ministry officials are determined to distribute the co-trimoxazole tablets to Namibian health centres. The drug is commonly used to treat bacterial infections, mostly in people living with HIV. The container was blocked at Walvis Bay harbour in September last year, initially because it lacked the required paperwork.
The minitry said public hospitals desperately need the antibiotics for more than 200 000 patients who depend on them. Although the ministry normally imports from various suppliers, this consignment is from China.
The stand-off involves ministry of health officials against the NMRC and the finance ministry, which are understood to want the consignment destroyed.
Apart from the paperwork, the medicines control body is allegedly concerned about the quality of the drugs, after local tests failed three out of nine samples.
The container was impounded due to lack of adequate customs paperwork, but further irregularities were flagged in the N$7 million tender for the supply of the drugs.
Vahekeni, a government medical stores procurement officer was central to the tender awarded to NM Medicals CC, the company which imported co-trimoxazole, as it is owned by Vahekenis former business partners and close friends Taimi Amakutuwa and Meameno Nghikembua.
The procurement policy unit in the ministry of finance has written to the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Vahekeni, who was part of the team briefing Nangombe to advocate the release of the medicine.
The Namibian understands that NMRC chairperson Dr Vaja Zatjirua is adamant the drugs be destroyed, going as far as arguing that even if the drugs passed laboratory tests, they had entered the country without the correct paperwork.
Finance executive director Ericah Shafudah is said to have backed him in insisting that the medicine be destroyed. Both Shafudah and Zatjirua could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Nangombe said he was not willing to comment on what transpired at the Sunday meeting, except that the ministrys stance was in the public interest. He added that he will deal with any breaches of the law later arising from ‚Äútehcnicalities‚Äù related to the import.
Nangombe insisted that because the drugs are not registered and do not comply with Namibian laws, does not mean they are of poor quality, or dangerous.
‚ÄúWe will send samples to South Africa for a second opinion,‚Äù he stated.
Last year, South African laboratories refused to conduct tests because the manufacturer of the drugs, Reyoung Pharmaceuticals, could not supply their in-house formula for testing impurities in its products, as required by international practice.
The Namibian has also learned that the joint investigation involving the NMRC and customs officials found that NM Medicals has allegedly imported the same drugs in the past, and supplied it to the health ministry without the correct paperwork.
Documents seen by The Namibian indicate that the company imported 150 boxes of co-trimoxazole tablets into Namibia from China. The consignment, destined for the Central Medical Stores, arrived in Namibia on 31 July 2018 via Hosea Kutako International Airport.