Investigation: Inside the NatPharm Saga: Board denies wrong doing

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Natpharm ran for two years without a substantive general manager since the contract of the then GM Flora Sifeku had expired in December 2018, the Zim Morning Post has heard.

Investigations revealed that the Natpharm board tried on several occasions to terminate Sifeku’s services since she was working without a contract but failed because the then minister of Health Obadiah Moyo preferred working with her.

When the board was appointed by Moyo the issue of the GM’s contract was raised but nothing materialised because she was imposed on Natpharm and there was nothing the board could do,” said an insider.

Sifeku’s contract expired in December 2018 but she worked until 2020 without a contract and everytime this issue was raised no resolution was given.

The issue would end with the health minister saying Sifeku was the best person to run Natpharm.

The source said as a result the board could not control Sifeku yet she was supposed to be their employee.

The board had no power to override her decisions and one of those was the controversial contract awarded to Drax International.”

The board was only told that the health and finance ministries negotiated the contract without Natpharm’s input.

The board was only told that the MD had signed the contract,” the source said.

Sources said nomatter how much the board tried to bring about issues of corporate governance they would hit a snag and this created multiple centres of power.

The board would sit and decide on what had to be done but the decisions would be dismissed by the Natpharm management,” the source said.

Last week four board members were arrested and charged with abuse of office allegations for failing to teminate Sieku’s contract.

However, in a letter addressed to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) on July 27 the board members said:“We note that while the Minister of Health and Child Care did not respond to our recommendations for termination, the OPC, through the Corporate Governance Unit (CGU), wrote to us on the July 20 confirming our grounds for terminating Florah Sifeku’s employment.”

The letter suggested that the OPC was aware of Sifeku’s employment contract and had allowed her to continue as the general manager.

We note that at all material times both your office and the CGU were aware of the employment status of Sifeku, even prior to our July 2019 appointment. Both offices were equally aware of all processes we commenced to secure the termination of Sifeku’s employment,” wrote the board to the OPC.

The letter further said on numerous occasions Moyo ignored recommendations to terminate Sifeku as general manager and the board could not act further than that.

Our statutory mandate is not simply to dismiss senior managers but to do so lawfully, reasonably and with minimum disruption to the organisation’s mandate. One of the key considerations is that the process of terminating a CEO of a nationally strategic organisation must be accompanied by a process for his/her replacement.

In implementing these processes, NatPharm board is guided by the provisions of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act [Chapter 10:31]. The Act is administered by the Office of the President and Cabinet which supervises our board’s processes in terms of Section 6 of that Act. Administratively, our Board reports to the appointing authority, the Minister of Health and Child Care.

This tripartite relationship is key to the discharge of our functions,” the letter further said.

A board member who spoke to Zim Morning Post said Moyo chose to keep Sifeku as the general manager after they had worked directly together for eight months without a board.

This is said to have given Sifeku powers to give tenders and make decisions together with the former minister without board approval.

When the board was appointed in July 2019 Sifeku failed to adjust to the new arrangements and she continued to override the board.

When we were appointed the management never consulted us rather decisions were just made between minister and senior management and on several occasions we would just be given a directive to sign papers we would not have discussed,” said another board member.

The overriding of the board in making decisions at NatPharm is seen in the much publicised Covidgate in which the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Health took a leading role in negotiating the tender which was given to Drax International.

The board is said to have been side-lined in discussing the tender while Sifeku and other senior managers are said to have communicated with Moyo.

This was also revealed in a letter that was written by the board members to the OPC.

Finally, we note that some of the media reports of our arrest attempt to link ourselves to the DRAX scandal. We place it on record that this NatPharm board was not involved in the purported and aborted transaction.

In fact, this board dismissed several senior management personnel allegedly involved in that transaction who are facing criminal charges relating to their involvement,” concluded the letter.

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