In 2020, the Cameroon government imported one million five hundred and fifty-six thousand (1,556,000) COVID-19 test kits at the cost of 25.8 billion FCFA (about US$52 million).
However, according to the just-published summary of the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court on the management of COVID-19 funds, the test kits were overcharged by 14.5 billion FCFA (about US$30 million).
At the centre of this COVID-19 scandal is Mediline Medical Korea, a South Korean company presented to Cameroonians on June 4, 2020, by Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health, Dr Manaouda Malachie, as “the fruit of a partnership between Cameroon and South Korea.”
The company was contracted to supply 1.4 million (90 per cent) of Cameroon’s COVID-19 test kits to the Ministry of Public Health while two local enterprises, Medical Plus and Sat Pharma supplied 156,000 kits, equivalent to 10 per cent of the national demand.
While the local suppliers offered their kits at 8,371 FCFA (about US$16) per kit, the South Korean firm, Mediline Medical, supplied theirs at 17,500 FCFA (about US$35), thus overcharging the Cameroonian taxpayer by 14.5 billion FCFA.
The South Korean test kits were marked Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Test SD-Biosensor, and according to the findings of the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court, they cost 7,084 FCFA.
“The difference of 10,415 FCFA between the usual price at which Mediline Medical supplies them and the price fixed by the manufacturer SD-Biosensor has cost the public treasury an extra 14,581,884,800 FCFA,” the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court notes.
“In other words, the state of Cameroon should have economized 14,581,884,800 FCFA on all the contracts awarded Mediline Medical Cameroon SA in 2020 if the orders had been made directly to SD-Biosensor.”
In addition, “during the fourth quarter of 2020, the Ministry of Public Health continued to buy test kits marked Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Test SD-Biosensor from Mediline Medical Cameroon SA at a unit price of 17,500 FCFA whereas it had been established at that time that the Ministry of Public Health should have equally acquired them through the auspices of the World Fund for the Fight Against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria at a unit price of 4.97 US dollars which is 2,932 FCFA,” the Audit Bench report reveals, questioning the interest the Ministry of Health and Dr Manaouda Malachie had in continuing to deal with the South Korean manufacturer unknown in Cameroon until then.
Besides the disparity in price, of the 1.4 million test kits bought, the audit report says 610,000 “cannot be accounted for with no information on their final destination produced at the financial jurisdiction.”
The Audit Bench report notes that these materials which were the object of invoice number 004:MHK 06-2020 of July 2, 2020, to the amount of 6 billion FCFA, raise suspicions that they might have been sold in the black market.
Many have argued that the Cameroon government cannot at this time pretend not to have known the actual price at which the South Korean test kits are sold in the international market nor the existence of SD-Biosensor/Mediline not to have ordered the kits directly from them.
And this because as of June 2, 2020, Cameroon, through the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Territorial Development was about to order three million test kits directly from SD-Biosensor/Mediline under the auspices of cooperation with the South Korean government.
It has now been established that the decision to buy the test kits through the local affiliate of the South Korean company was influenced by Moda Holding Hong Kong-owned by billionaire Mohamadou Dabo, a big contributor and member of the ruling CPDM party who doubles as the Consul General of South Korea in Cameroon.
Mohamadou Dabo is reported to have benefitted from support at the summit of the state.
It was Prime Minister Dion Ngute on July 11, 2020, who authorised the Ministry of Public Health to negotiate the purchase of three million test kits from the South Korean firm and the Minister of Trade, Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana validated the price when he knew the large difference between the actual price and the price at which the local affiliate of the South Korean firm was offering them to the Cameroon government.
“The criteria used in the selection of the suppliers and the conditions used in awarding the special contracts remain unknown to the Audit Bench and this resulted in opacity,” the Audit Bench notes.
The Supreme Court report reveals that Mediline Medical Cameroon SA which was registered on September 13, 2017, has been in hibernation since its creation suspecting that “it was reactivated to serve the needs of the cause” and reveals that it would issue a report on “the real ownership and the eventual conflicts of interests which the privilege in the award of the contract suggests.”
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