The Federal Ministry of Health’s inability to procure equipment and equip laboratories is affecting Nigeria’s preparation for a possible Coronavirus epidemic, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
This is despite the release of N386m by the Federal Government to scale up preparation to tackle the disease.
The Presidency through the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, had in October 2018 stripped the ministry of its powers to procure anything and transferred the authority to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The PUNCH had reported that the development was caused by a power play between the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, and Kyari.
Eight months after Adewole’s exit, however, Kyari it was learnt, had failed to reverse the directive.
A top official at the health ministry said attempts to get the President’s chief of staff to reverse the situation had not yielded any positive results.
The official said both the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire and the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, had met with Kyari over the issue but there had been no progress yet.
He said the situation had slowed down preparations for prevention of Coronavirus, a disease which has killed more than 1,800 people and infected over 73,000 people worldwide.
The official, who is also a doctor, said items like nose masks, chemicals and equipment were being procured through the Agric ministry
He said, “We can’t easily get consumables like personal protective equipment, including nose masks.
“We need to improve our capacity for quarantine and surveillance and monitor those coming (to Nigeria), especially where we have a basis for suspicion. Logistics cost more money. We need to set up more labs, we need reagents. There is no way the suspension of our procurement powers will not affect our capacity.
“Even when we have money, we cannot activate procurement because we have been stripped of our powers of procurement.”
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The source further stated that the ministry needed more thermal scanners at the various points of entry and this was being delayed.
“We need to deploy more staff. We need personnel capacity, training, logistics. All these things are important. All these things are not there when we need them.
“Even our thermal scanners at the airport, we need more at all our points of entry. So, it is affecting us seriously,” he said.
Sunday PUNCH reports that due to the friction between the former minister, Adewole, and Kyari, a directive was given to the then Permanent Secretary, Clement Uwaifo, in October 2018 that all contracts and procurement related issues must go through the ministry of agric.
Documents obtained by Sunday PUNCH showed that whenever the ministry of health wants to make procurement, the permanent secretary would raise a memo which would be sent to the permanent secretary of the agric ministry.
It was observed that in some instances, the permanent secretary would give direct approval while sometimes, he would write a memo to the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Mamman Ahmadu, who would approve based on the Procurement Act.
When contacted on the telephone, the Permanent Secretary of the health ministry, Abdullahi Mashi, told Sunday PUNCH that indeed the ministry had been barred from making procurements.
Mashi said the issues had been communicated to the appropriate authorities and the ministry of health had been asked to write a formal request asking for its procurement powers to be returned.
The permanent secretary, however, said the preventive measures put in place to tackle a potential Coronavirus outbreak were adequate despite the ministry’s procurement challenge.
He said all the major airports in Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Kano and Port Harcourt had been placed on alert and thermal scanners deployed.
On the procurement challenge, he said, “We were asked to write on the matter and we have written and we are expecting a response soon.
“For now, there is no gap. We have done everything within our power to secure our points of entry. It’s not true that it’s affecting coronavirus preparations. The five entry points are being properly manned by our men 24/7.”
When asked if the ministry was not worried by its inability to make procurements, he said, “I did not say the arrangement is working for us. I am the chief accounting officer and there is no way I will be comfortable with an arrangement whereby I have to approach another ministry for help. It is not working for me.”
When contacted on the telephone, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the health ministry was stripped of its procurement powers because it exceeded its spending limits.
He said, “The Ministry of Agriculture was appointed to do procurement on their behalf arising from a problem which was brought to the attention of the government by the Bureau of Public Procurement. The health ministry was authorised to spend N2bn but they spent N7bn.”
Shehu said the officials of the ministry who were lamenting to Sunday PUNCH should write to BPP instead of trying to blackmail Kyari.
He, however, did not respond on why the arrangement was still in place eight months after the exit of those involved in the unauthorised spending.
“This arrangement has been on for over a year. They should not try to use Coronavirus to blackmail the government. Let them approach BPP if they are sure that their house is in order,” he added.
Attempts to speak with the EFCC spokesman, Mr Tony Orilade, proved abortive as he neither responded to telephone calls nor a text message on Saturday.
Culled from The PUNCH