The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman Manu, has eggs in his face as his trusted middlemen who were to supply Ghana with the overpriced Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines, have failed to deliver despite his strong position that they were going to.
In this regard, he told a bi-partisan Parliamentary Probe Committee that the company has terminated the contract it had with Ghana.
The development has left many wondering why the Minister is still at post, having been warned against the use of middlemen in the procurement of the vaccines against a disease which is killing millions worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO), had cautioned against the use of middlemen, saying they were in the habit of supplying fake vaccines, and asked the countries dealt directly with manufacturers, but Kwaku Agyeman Manu and others, including the Special Advisor on Health at the Presidency, Dr. Anthony Nsiah Asare, had insisted on the credibility of the supply.
Under the said contract, Ghana was to receive 3.4 million doses of Sputnik V Vaccines at a unit cost of 19 dollars as against the ex-factory price of 10 dollars per dose.
But appearing before the nine-member committee in Parliament on Thursday, July 15, 2021, Agyeman Manu, said the contract was terminated because Sheik Al Makhtoum, could not supply the vaccines as promised.
"So, as I sit here, there is no contract between the two of us."
The Minister used the opportunity to explain to the committee why the contract was cancelled.
He said the intermediary had told government that the first 300,000 doses would be supplied within two weeks, but failed to deliver the vaccines.
"They came back to [tell] us that they had run out of stock and that they were waiting on the manufacturer to supply them, so that they would, in turn, supply us in two weeks."
"After two weeks we went back to them, but they said still they haven't received the vaccines from the manufacturer. So we started engaging them that if that is the matter, they should permit us to withdraw from the contract so that we can do something different and buy vaccines for ourselves because our faith in them to supply [the vaccines] was waning. So we continuously put pressure on them, and they gave us [until] July . They later gave us verbal notice that they will not be able to supply any longer, and so we requested that they terminate the agreement, which they have actually done," the Health Minister noted.
The country, has been struggling to get more vaccines to reach its target of inoculating 20 million citizens.
It later emerged that the government is using the services of middlemen to procure some of Russia's Sputnik-V vaccines, but at a higher cost of US$19, other than the original factory price of US$ 10.
This move did not go down well with some stakeholders, including the Minority in Parliament, which called for the abrogation of the contract.
At the time, Senior Vice-President of IMANI Africa, Kofi Bentil, noted that the Akufo-Addo government has not been responsible enough in its quest to procure Russia's Sputnik-V vaccines to augment Ghana's COVID-19 inoculation exercise.
The failure to make use of the government-to-government approach and settle on middlemen to obtain the vaccines from the black market, Mr Bentil believed, was a heedless move to toy with the lives of citizens in the wake of the global pandemic.
"If we are going to buy the vaccines, we must buy from the manufacturers and vaccinate our people. In this case, we did not need or have to use a middle man. Middlemen are very unreliable and in this particular instance, it has been proven that they are very unreliable. This looks bad, it should not happen because people can die. If people start dying or start getting side effects and reactions, who do you attack"? Kofi Bentil quized on Joy FM's News File.
The government, had explained that it could not secure the vaccines directly from the manufacturer, hence the need to go through some middlemen, justifying why the cost is higher than the standard price of the Russian vaccine.
The Health Ministry had justified why the government must procure the vaccines using this means, even at an overpriced value, saying it was compelled to rely on the market for the vaccines after it failed to procure supplies directly from the Russian government.
Kofi Bentil however disagreed with the position and maintained that the government has got it entirely wrong with the manner in which it wants to purchase the vaccines because the approach is a disregard for due diligence.
"Which responsible government will go to the black market and deal with shady and underground characters with zero track record and present things that cannot work and give them more than the normal price and the regular route to get vaccines for their people?. Who does that when the people have clearly shown that they cannot reduce or deliver better than the regular manufacturers?" he asked.
The Health Committee in Parliament has said the government is not being ripped off in any deal to procure Sputnik-V vaccines.
Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Nana Ayew Afriyie said, although the country has signed agreements with suppliers, none of the consignment has been received.
He argued that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the procurement of the Sputnik-V vaccines require the use of middlemen whose activities will lead to an increase in the original price of the jabs hence, the concerns being raised over 'abnormal' pricing are misplaced.
"We have not been swindled as a State. Even though we are in a desperate state to get vaccines, the policy of the government which is a very good one is to get business persons to go into the Sputnik V space", he stressed.
But the Minority in parliament demanded the immediate termination of any contract between Ghana and any entity for the procurement of Sputnik V vaccines.
Ranking Member on the Health Committee, Kwabena Mintah Akandoh said, revelations about the government procuring vaccines at $19 per dose instead of $10 smacks of financial impropriety and cost inflation stating that there is no justification for the government to procure the Sputnik V vaccines at such a cost.
"The minority in Parliament will urge the government to reconsider both terms of this contract with particular emphasis on price and work assiduously through proper diplomatic and approved channels to secure COVID-19 vaccines for Ghanaians. This contract is unconstitutional, null, and void and the government should abrogate and refrain from making any payment with respect to this contract before laying the entirety of the contract before Parliament for scrutiny and subsequent approval."