FAIR Awards 2011

NIGERIAN EDITOR AND TWO REPORTERS SCOOP FAIR AWARDS

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Nigerian newspaper NEXT shone like a million stars on 1 November as one of its editors  and two of its reporters scooped two of the three awards on offer at the FAIR (Forum for African Investigative Reporters) African Investigative Journalism Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

A video message from the sponsors “FreePress Unlimited” set the tone for thunderous applause at the Moyo Zoo Lake venue of the ceremony as FAIR’s chairman, Gerard Guedegbe, declared reporters Peter Nkanga and Idris Akinbajo as African Investigative Reporters of the Year for their joint work, entitled “Last Minutes Oil Deal that Cost Nigeria Dear” published in the 12 June edition of NEXT on Sunday.

The report is one of a six-part groundbreaking series which catalogued a courageous journey into Nigeria’s heart of darkness, the oil industry. The team investigated brazen attempts by senior officials, including petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to corner the oil industry for themselves, openly demanding bribes, and using cronies and fronts to grab oil blocs in secretive deals. President Goodluck Jonathan ignored the weighty allegations, and proceeded to reappoint Mrs Alison-Madueke to his cabinet. The Senate also failed to do its job, ratifying her appointment without lifting a finger.

The award was received on behalf of the reporters by their editor, Musikilu Mojeed, who was in Johannesburg to speak at the African Investigative Journalism Conference, organized by FAIR and the University of Witwatersrand. But before he could make it back to his seat, he too was announced as winner of the Editor’s Courage Award. 

A journalist with the Kenya Standard newspaper, Kipchumba Some, won the second prize in the investigative reporting category for his story on police killings in his country. 

In adjudging Messrs.’ Nkanga and Akinbajo’s entry the most outstanding, the judges described the report as an exceptional piece of journalism that should have sent Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe to jail. ”An excellent, thorough investigation into an important issue,” the judges said of the report.

“In most countries, this article would cost the minister her job, if not her freedom. Nigeria’s Next newspaper and website did a great job here.”

Mr. Mojeed was honoured for demonstrating rare courage and providing the right kind of leadership to get the stories published in spite of high-level pressures, police harassment, attempted monetary inducement and threats to his life.  

NEXT has stopped printing. It is broke, and its publisher is trying to source funds to continue operations. Next started publishing online in December 2008. It’s NEXT on SUNDAY hit the stands in February 2009. The daily edition began in late 2009. The two award-winners are in the process of being hired by an Abuja-based multimedia company, PREMIUM TIMES. 

More than 40 entries from across Africa were judged for this year’s awards, which honour only works considered to be investigative. The entries were judged by some of the best investigative journalists in the world. They include Gwen Ansell, editor of FAIR’s well-regarded Investigative Journalism Manuals; Mark Lee Hunter, co-author of the book “Story Based Enquiry”; Tito Ndombi of Africa News and of the Ifasic Journalism Training Institute in Kinshasa; Joe Hanlon, veteran Investigative Journalist and academic who spent decades investigating Africa from his base in Mozambique, and Brant Houston, who is ex-director of US-based professional body Investigative Reporting & Editors, Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, and co-founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. 

Winning Story

‘LAST  MINUTE OIL DEALS THAT COST NIGERIA DEAR’

By Peter Nkanga and Idris Akinbajo

Next, Nigeria, 12 June 2011

Just two days before the federal cabinet dissolved to allow President Goodluck Jonathan appoint a fresh one in recognition of his new electoral mandate, officials in charge of our oil and gas resources secretly signed a deal assigning production rights in at least two large oil blocks to a shadowy company with no prior experience and no fixed address.

Under the direction and with the approval of then petroleum minister Diezani Allison-Madueke, the officials with a magic wave of a pen effectively transferred hundreds of millions of US dollars – possibly billions – in public assets to private individuals without a public tender.

The deal is in apparent violation of Nigeria’s Public Procurement Act, which forbids no-tender bids for the procurement of goods and services by any government-owned institution under penalty of imprisonment.

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, has been arrested and remains in detention in part for allegedly violating the same law. Mr Bankole faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of those particular charges.

The man at the heart of this strange and secretive deal is one Jide Omokore, chairman of a company not yet a year old and which has never produced a barrel of oil. The company, Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, is the beneficiary of this gift by Mrs Allison-Madueke. For paying to the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, a fully owned subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (of which Mrs Allison-Madueke, as minister, was chairman) an initial “entrance fee” of slightly more than $50 million for each of the two oil fields, Atlantic now has effective control of the NPDC’s 55 percent stake in the oil block. These are rick blocks known in the industry as OML 30 and 34.

Shell, the giant multinational that produces around 50 percent of all of Nigeria’s crude, is the beneficial owner of the remaining 45 percent of the blocks. Shell had subjected its share of these oil blocks to an open and transparent competitive bidding process, fetching up to $1.3 billion in a single field. By comparison, Mrs Allison-Madueke’s no-bid approach via a so-called “Strategic Alliance Agreement” fetches the federation account an upfront cash payment of little more than $50 million. The true market value, if the Shell approach had been followed, would have been upwards of $1.5 billion.

Mrs Allison-Madueke has shut out established industry players, including local companies, by opting for these secret deals. The transcripts of these “strategic alliance” agreements can be found on our web site, 234NEXT.com.

As she campaigns furiously for reappointment into Mr Jonathan’s cabinet, whose nominees may be sent to the Senate for approval as early as this week, Mrs Allison-Madueke has become a major political burden for the president. Her presence in the new government is certain to prove a distraction to the president, who has expressed a strong determination to steer the country away from its persistent underperformance and avarice. As in the past, all attempts to reach Mrs Allison-Madueke for comment were rebuffed. She has said elsewhere that she did nothing wrong and threatens to sue us for exposing these deals.

“The question is why?” said one prominent energy sector source. “Why these particular companies and these particular individuals? Why do these deals secretly? Why deny experienced industry players the opportunity to bid for the same contracts?”

Connecting the dots

Mr Omokore, as chairman of Atlantic Energy, similarly got a sweetheart no-bid deal from Mrs Allison-Madueke in three other oil blocks, as detailed in our report last week. Mr Omokore also is a part-owner of Seven Energy. Septa’s managing director, Kola Aluko, also is a director of VistaJet, the private jet leasing company. VistaJet has provided private jets for Mrs Allison-Madueke’s use, including as recently as last month, to the annual international petroleum conference in Houston, Texas.

Seven Energy, through its lawyer, Femi Falana, who also acts on behalf of the NNPC, has served notice to this newspaper that it intends to file a lawsuit against us. Phillip Ihenacho, chairman of Seven Energy, has told our reporter that his company has conducted itself honourably and legally in the no-tender transaction approved for his firm by Mrs Allison-Madueke. What is more, an oil trading company controlled by Mr Omokore, called SPOG, faces accusations of fraud in a petition to the office of the attorney general and minister of justice. SPOG is alleged to have, on at least one occasion, imported 3,000 metric tonnes of refined petroleum but claimed subsidy refunds on 13,000 metric tonnes from the PPPRA, the petroleum pricing agency under Mrs Allison-Madueke’s supervision. The payoff from that single alleged inflated transaction was N400 million.

Mr Omokore did not respond directly to our inquiries. Atlantic Energy was incorporated only in July last year. As far as we can determine, it has no office or personnel. In its registration documents, the company gave Plot 1267, Ahmadu Bello Way, Abuja as its official address. But our inquiries established that no such company has ever operated out of that location. The company has also never executed a single oil-related contract, undertaken any project, or produced one barrel of crude since it was registered under the names of three people who claim to live in the same address listed as the company’s offices.

But it was to this shadowy and inexperienced company that Mrs Allison-Madueke turned for operating rights to two of the most lucrative oil blocks in Nigeria three days before the end of the last administration. Just hours before she attended her last cabinet meeting on Wednesday, May 25, Mrs Allison-Madueke’s subordinates, with her approval, basically handed over OMLs 30 and 34 to this barely functional company Atlantic Energy to fund the Nigerian Petroleum Development Co’s share of expenditure in exchange for recovering its cost and sharing profits.

Assigning the blocks without open, competitive bidding appears to be a clear violation of industry guidelines, which demand that allocation of oil blocks and the award of service contracts shall be based on an open competitive bidding process to allow every investor, indigenous or foreign, an equal opportunity to explore and develop Nigeria’s petroleum resources. The arrangement also seems a violation of the Public Procurement Act 2007, which regulates all procurements by ministries and agencies of the Nigerian government. Officials breaching this law risk a term of imprisonment of between five and 10 years without an option of fine.

The former minister and spokesperson of the NNPC did not return calls or text messages seeking comment. The Department of Petroleum Resources, the agency statutorily charged with supervising all petroleum industry operations being carried out under licenses and leases in order to ensure compliance with the applicable laws and regulations, requested an emailed enquiry but eventually did not respond to our reporter’s questions.

Sweetheart deals

The multiple controversial deals in which the former minister is embroiled has made it all but impossible for the president to reappoint her, according to highly placed political leaders. Atlantic Energy’s deal with the NPDC to provide financial and technical services in respect of its 55 percent stake in the lucrative OML 30 is perhaps the most astonishing example of these deals shrouded in secrecy. Shell is selling its 45 percent shareholding in the block, after an elaborative competitive bidding process, to Mike Adenuga’s Conoil for $1.3bn. For a field that is so lucrative that it yielded 45,000bbl of crude per day in April, Mrs Allison-Madueke’s favourite company is to pay, as entrance fee 30 cents per barrel of oil to the Nigerian government and two cents for gas equivalent.

Industry players are aghast

“These people are truly audacious; I have never seen anything like it,” said one industry operator who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardising business relationships with the all-powerful petroleum ministry and the NNPC. A similar deal, hurriedly packaged and finalized on May 25, was signed with Atlantic in respect of OML 34, where Shell also is selling its 45 percent to the Niger Delta Energy and Petroleum Company for $600 million. Earlier in September, the former minister had entered into a service contract with Seven Energy International Limited, through its Nigerian subsidiary, Septa Energy Nigeria Limited, in respect of OML 4, 38, and 41. According to the agreement signed with the company, the firm is to pay a “paltry” $54 million as entrance fee for participating in the three blocks which has Seplat Exploration Production Company as operator. The company will also recover its cost and share profits with NPDC. It can lift crude from the fields and keep the entire proceeds of its sale abroad, contrary to the guideline that requires companies to keep at least 10 percent of their proceeds in Nigerian banks. In a memo to its stakeholders after NEXT broke the story of its deal with the NPDC last week, Seven Energy claimed that its strategic alliance agreement in respect of the three blocks was “modeled after valid service contracts with oil majors in the past.” But NEXT’s investigation indicates this claim is untrue.

The NNPC acted right in the past

In 2001, NPDC and Agip Energy went into a service contract agreement for the development of OPL 91 (now known as OML 119) – Okono and Okpohu fields – under a joint operatorship. This newspaper can confirm that Agip won the contract after an open, competitive bidding process. The NNPC had at the time advertised in December 1999 for a partner to develop new fields in the block, which is in about 100 meters water depth, and located in the southeastern Niger Delta. The corporation received applications until December 31, 1999, after which it declared Agip the winner of the bid.

“So if NPDC could follow due process 10 years ago, what has changed now?” said a senior official in the NNPC. “Why must they give away assets belonging to the Nigerian people in such a non-transparent way especially when the country now has a procurement law in place?”

A member of the recently defunct Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), which undertook to investigate Mrs Allison-Madueke but was stymied, argued that what the minister did was a tactical reintroduction of single-source procurement abolished in the industry in 2004.

“Single-source negotiation contract has been discontinued in the country since the days of Edmund Dakouru as minister,” said the source, who did not want to be specifically identified for fear of reprisal. “It was discontinued because it was causing a lot of fraud. It is shocking that the practice resurfaced under Diezani.”

Thine deal be done

As a key figure in this web of secretive arrangements, Mr Omokore cuts an astonishing figure. A wealthy businessman and politician, his Energy Resources Group has an 11 percent stake in Seven Energy International Limited, owners of Septa. Having swung OML 4, 38 and 41 in Septa’s favour, Mr Omokore’s coup de grace was to corner OMLs 30 and 34, using the newly formed Atlantic Energy. Company documents give Messrs Albert Bassey Akpan, Bankole Opashi and Sanni Mohammed as shareholders and directors of the firm, a veritable WaZoBia of ethnic balancing. But when time came to sign the controversial agreement with NPDC, Mr Omokore emerged, signing as chairman of the company. Atlantic also gave its registered address as Plot 1267 Ahmadu Bello Way, Abuja, which is a former location for one of Mr Omokore’s numerous companies, SPOG Petroleum, which has now moved to Millennium Builder’s Plaza in central Abuja. Chijioke Isiolu, the Atlantic Energy company secretary, told our reporter that his company is competent to execute the contract awarded to it because it has a sister company in Seven Energy. Mr Omokore was not available for comment. When our reporter called his Abuja office, an official simply directed enquiries at Mr Isiolu, whom he said could speak on Mr Omokore’s behalf. Mr Isiolu later said on the telephone that the allegations against Mr Omokore were false. He promised to provide further information if our reporter could agree to a meeting, not in his office but at unspecified location.

Mrs Allison-Madueke is not officially connected to Seven Energy, but she does indirectly enjoy the hospitality of the company. In June 2010, Vistajet, the UK-based private aviation company, extended its operation to Nigeria through an alliance with Seven Energy. Sources said Vistajet Nigeria, headed by Kola Aluko, one of the owners of Seven Energy and the managing director of its Nigerian subsidiary, Septa Energy, routinely provides a private jet for the minister’s convenience, including her trip to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston last month. Mrs Allison-Madueke accepted this expensive hospitality as she was approving the secret no-bid deal to assign production rights in the oil blocks to Septa, Atlantic and Seven Energy – an apparent contravention of section 6 of the fifth schedule of our constitution.

The constitution stipulates that: “A public officer shall not ask for or accept property or benefits of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties. For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph, the receipt by a public officer of any gifts or benefits from commercial firms, business enterprises or persons who have contracts with the government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention of the said sub-paragraph unless the contrary is proved.”

Runner up 

‘POLICE OFFICERS CITED IN CASES OF MISSING YOUNG MEN’

By Kipchumba Some

The Standard, Kenya, 26 June 2010

 Barely a year after top UN human rights official accused the police of unlawfully killing thousands of youth on suspicion of being criminals, the practice appears to be continuing unabated. Investigations by The Standard on Saturday indicate that hundreds of youth continue to be killed and disappear in the hands of police. And for the first time, the police force has accepted that some of its officers could be engaged in such acts of criminality.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which released a report in 2008 titled: A Cry of Blood, in which it claimed police had unlawfully killed more than 1,500 youth, says it continues to receive complaints from the public of people dying or disappearing in the hands of the police. The commission said it had received more than 200 complaints of unlawful killing or disappearance at the hands of police since it released its report.

“The issue is not as pronounced as it was before, but it is still going on,” said KNCHR’s Hassan Omar. “We have investigated and forwarded a number of them to the Attorney General for action,” he added.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said: “There is no point in denying that people are disappearing and it could be some of our unscrupulous officers. But no, we have received few such complaints,” he said.

On the afternoon of Sunday March 21, at three o’clock, three white Toyota saloon cars raced along Kihara Road, Karuri division, Gachie area, and aimed directly at a group of young men chatting by the roadside.  The car in front made as if to knock some bystanders before screeching to a halt, followed by the other two behind it. As the dust settled, the doors of the three cars were violently opened and out stepped about eight people, guns raised up in the air. One, apparently the leader of the group, had a pistol while the rest had G3 guns, similar to those police officers carry. Anxiety and fear gripped the small shopping centre perched on a hill.

People react differently to fear. Some freeze, others feign bravery yet others simply take to their feet. One of those who fled was Joseph Njenga, 16. The Form Two student at Rehoboth School stepped back from the officers who had menacingly stopped by his feet. On the third step back, the man with the pistol shot towards him, grabbed him by the neck and pulled him down, kicked him in the sides, and cocked his gun and pointed it at his head. “He called him a criminal, a Mungiki suspect,” recalled a trader at the centre who witnessed the incident. “We were all terrified and Njenga was sobbing on the ground.”

Collins Tyson, a colleague of Njenga at Rehoboth, was one of those who froze at the sight of guns raised in the air. They had just met with his friend and were about to part when the strange men struck. “I think they picked on Njenga when he tried to move back. I could also have run, but I was so afraid that fear immobilised me. I remained rooted at that spot for a long while after they had gone.”

On the other side of the road pastor John Njoroge of the Truth Seekers Chapel in Gachie wondered what was going on. It must be plainclothes policemen arresting suspects, he thought as he walked on. He had no time to stop and enquire more because he was running late for a meeting. Then to his utter surprise, one of the men with a gun called him, pointed his gun at him and ordered him to stop. Then the nightmare he never expected began.

He was dragged by the scruff of his shirt to where Njenga was and both ordered to lie down flat on their stomachs, with guns pointed on their heads.

It was a market day and ordinarily the shoppers of the little town would have raised a ruckus about strangers harassing their neighbours. But such thoughts were quickly wiped away. The armed strangers cocked their guns and warned the bewildered observers against screaming or any kind of protest. Without much fanfare, the two — Njenga and pastor Njoroge — were separately bundled into the back seat of two of the cars. The cars raced off along Kiharu Road.

Janet Mwangi was attending an afternoon church meeting when she was informed that unknown people had taken her second born son, Njenga. As expected of any mother, she was worried. From the description she was given by witnesses, she concluded that police had most probably taken her son. In any case it is not something new.

At that time of anxiety and fear, Njoroge turned to the only weapon he had – prayer. He closed his eyes and mumbled a few words. It did not impress the armed strangers. “Will you stop your theatrics,” roared the driver of the car he was in. The strangers grabbed the small bag that Njoroge was carrying, his Bible and personal documents. It had Sh3,000 of the day’s collection.

Barely two kilometres from where Njenga and Njoroge were taken, at a small shopping centre along the Kihara road, the two cars raced to a halt. Six people from both cars stepped out, their guns in the air and cocked. They ordered everybody at the shopping centre to lock themselves in the shops. One of them opened the boot of the car that was in front and pulled out two people. According to witnesses, Njenga was pulled out from the back seat of one of the cars. Then one of the officers fetched a metal rod from the car and started beating Njenga and the other unidentified victims with it. His colleagues kept eye on things, occasionally threatening curious neighbours.

“It was gruesome,” remembered a shop attendant who witnessed the whole thing. “They were screaming that they were not Mungiki members while the officer hit them.” A student from a neighbouring school who happened to have been at the shopping centre recognised Njenga. “He had black jeans and white shoes.” Mwangi says these were the same clothes her son had worn that day. The student also recognised the officer who was beating them. The Standard on Saturday was shown the officer at Gachie shopping centre in a car said to belong to the police. The beating took 10 minutes. The strangers then bundled the almost lifeless bodies of the three into the two cars and sped off. Njenga has never been seen again.

Inside the car, the strangers interrogated Njoroge while he prayed. Annoyed with his “theatrics”, the driver of the car suddenly stopped, turned around, and slapped him across the face. “I was taken aback. I realised that these men were dangerous and they could easily do something nasty to me if I persisted with my prayers.” Njoroge decided to mumble the prayer, inaudibly. Then one of them told him something startling: “Pastor, you have nothing to fear if you are indeed a pastor. We are police and cannot kill you for nothing.”

Somebody had informed Njoroge’s wife that he had been taken. She hired a taxi and traced the white car that her husband was in and followed it behind as it made rounds in Gachie village. After two hours, the car took a route towards Nairobi and stopped at the entry to Gigiri Police Station. “Then one of them asked ‘if this guy is a pastor, is there a reason to go with him?” The driver asked Njoroge for his mobile phone. He then made a call using the pastor’s phone and asked the person on the other end whether the number he was using was among those ones they were looking for. The person on the other end replied negatively. “He gave me my phone and asked me to disembark. When I asked them about my bag, they told me to go to hell.” The car then sped off towards Nairobi city.

That night he reported at Kihara Police Station that he had lost his documents. He was informed that he could recover his documents from Karuri Police Station because it is only the Flying Squad from Karuri that had the mandate to conduct such operations in Gachie.

Meanwhile, Mwangi went to Kihara Police Station to enquire about her son’s whereabouts and was told her son was not there. She then went to the neighbouring Karuri, Gigiri and Kiambu police stations and was told the same thing. She made calls to his mobile phone, and although it was ringing, no one was answering it. CID Officers at Unep Police Station offered to track the number. As the night wore on, Mwangi got worried even more for her son. Njenga, she says, is epileptic and has to take medicine for the condition before going to bed every night.

Friends and family describe Njenga as a deeply religious boy, and a budding musician. He had just recorded an album of Christian songs, which were due to be released. His teachers described him as a polite fellow who got on well with his colleagues. He was the head of Christian Union at school. The only bone of contention he had with his teachers was his low grades.

By two o’clock morning there was no word still on Mwangi’s son’s whereabouts. They decided to retire home and began the search again at daybreak, without success.  On the midday of Monday March 22, Njenga’s phone died. The police officials at Unep Police Station informed her that they had lost the signal in the Kariobangi area. Nothing has been heard of him since. “I have visited every police station, every mortuary, every hospital in this town. But there is no trace of my son. I know he could be dead, but I just want to bury him and get closure,” Mwangi said.

A police officer with one of the special squads and who is familiar with the case confirmed to us that indeed Njenga was taken by a contingent of plainclothes officers from Kiambu District.  He revealed that a special anti-Mungiki operation had been called that day. He further said five other young men were arrested from larger Karuri and Kihara divisions alongside Njenga.

What stands out from this operation is the evident lack of investigations prior to the arrests. Evidently, the police officers did not have clear suspects in minds. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said he was not aware of the incident, but described it as “very disturbing”. “That is a serious case that we must investigate and get the truth,” he said.

Shortlist:

DEOGRATIAS MMANA

How dangerous criminals get out of jail before time to cause more havoc on public

Weekend Nation, Malawi, 21 May 2011

A Weekend Nation investigation has uncovered how a syndicate involving a court clerk and some prison officers gets dangerous criminals released from jail before time is up at a fee to cause more havoc on the unsuspecting public.

Police in November 2010 expressed shock to learn that one of the two robbers they gunned down trying to rob Agora Limited in Limbe, Robert Difuleya, who was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with hard labour on June 26 2008 after being convicted on a charge of robbery with evidence, had a release order on him.

“When we searched him, he was found with a release order from Chichiri Prison but although it is signed by a magistrate, we suspect that it is a fake document. So, we will also investigate how he found himself out when he is supposed to be serving a prison sentence,” said Chifundo Chibwezo, Limbe Police spokesperson.

We were tipped off by a former inmate that there is a clerk in Zomba named Wisdom Chiuta who facilitates the releases by forging court documents and judicial officers’ signatures with the help of some prison officials.

After getting a go-ahead from both the director of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Alex Nampota and Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito, we approached Chiuta through a contact to facilitate the release of a prisoner [Name withheld for his own safety] at Chichiri Prison.

Chiuta at first demanded K120 000, saying K20 000 was for a prison warder who would facilitate the release.

The first meeting between Chiuta and our contact, which was secretly recorded, was on January 13 2011 in Blantyre.

Chiuta boasted that although he is a mere court clerk, he is meticulous and ensures that he does not leave a trail behind. “I do it in such a way that even when police probe, they will fail to trace how prisoners get out before their time. I will write Chichiri Prison as if it is the High Court that wants him. Prison officials will not question that,” he said.

Chiuta, who said he comes from Makwasa in Thyolo, said it is easier to release prisoners at Zomba than Chichiri Prison. He said many prisoners with money ask for transfer to Zomba Prison because they know they will be released easily. Said Chiuta: “In the past, people feared Zomba Prison but now it has become a home for prisoners. It is a bit difficult to release a prisoner from Blantyre High Court because about two years ago, police invaded the court and investigated release of some prisoners whom they saw walking freely before their release time. So, court officials there are still afraid.”

“I have three other people apart from the prison warder that I work with. One goes to the judge’s chamber to get the seal stamp and even write in the judge’s diary about the release of the prisoner. Some boys have to forge the judge’s signature. I risk my job because I can be arrested for forgery. That is why nowadays we demand upfront payment.”

“That is why the police fail to establish how some prisoners get released before their time. You can find that the papers go through the registrar’s office and have the judge’s seal stamp and signature and the release is also reflected in the judge’s diary.”

Asked how long the process takes, Chiuta said the maximum period is four weeks.

“After four weeks, and we do not release the prisoner, then something is wrong,” he said.

He also boasted that he released two of the three hardcore criminals Matthew Chimombo and Gulaya, who in February this year robbed a bank.

When asked to aid the release of our prisoner, Chiuta said: “That is not a difficult job. I have helped many hardcore criminals like armed robbers get out of prison. Your issue is not difficult because even when he is out and police see him walking freely, they will not be very worried because he does not pose a threat to national security.”

When the date for the release came, Chiuta grew cold feet after he got wind of the fact that the law enforcers were part of our plan.

But during the conversation with our contact, which we recorded, Chiuta revealed that he helped the release of a convicted armed robber, Gerald Banda.

We later learnt that he also helped another prisoner convicted of robbery, Matthews Chimombo. When we later went to Zomba High Court, we were told that Chiuta works at Mulunguzi Magistrate’s Court but often goes to the High Court. But when we contacted Mulunguzi Court, an official connected us to a clerk who identified himself as Wisdom Phiri. Phiri said he does not know Chiuta and also distanced himself from the malpractice.

Our contact describes Chiuta, who he met twice, as light in complexion and about 1.7 metres tall. He also described him as of medium weight. On the other hand, Phiri, according to Judiciary spokesperson, comes from Phangwa Village in the area of chief Malengachanzi in Nkhotakota.

We traced the files of Chimombo and Banda with Prisons Department and discovered that they were indeed released but before their time was up.

Our investigations, which took six months, revealed that Chimombo was convicted on January 31, 2007 of armed robbery and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment with hard labour but he was released on January 12, 2009. Banda, on the other hand, was convicted on August 9, 2006 also of two armed robberies and sentenced to 10 years and nine years, respectively, to run consecutively. He was released on January 15, 2009.

Documents show that the two sentences were at some point changed to run concurrently for six years. Both prisoners were transferred from Chichiri Prison to Zomba Prison.

One of the documents in Banda’s file which was used to release him is a purportedly warrant of commitment to officer-n-charge of Zomba Prison which shows that the sentence was reduced by the High Court and it is signed by the “Registrar”. The warrant reads in part, “And whereas upon confirmation of the conviction and sentence this court quashed the conviction on the charges of robbery with violence and set aside the sentence and instead convicted Gerald Banda with attempted robbery c/s. 300 of the Penal Code and substituted a sentence of 6 years I.H.L on each of the two charges with effect from 16th January, 2005.(…)You are required to keep the said Gerald Banda in custody until the expiration of 6 years I.H.L.” The same is the case with Chimombo which shows that his sentence was reduced by the High Court in Blantyre and also signed by the “Registrar”.

The Judiciary on Tuesday this week disowned the documents in the two files. Judiciary spokesperson Joseph Chigona said the signature on the warrant of commitment does not belong to any court registrar in the country.  Chigona also said since 2008, confirmation of the conviction and sentences of cases from Blantyre has not been done. He also disowned another warrant of commitment in Banda’s file signed by one Mac Novice Mmadi, saying such a warrant does not exist and that the Judiciary has never had an employee called Mac Novice Mmadi. “There is no registrar with such a signature. The person who has signed the second warrant has never been an employee in the Judiciary. To avoid things of this nature, nowadays judges and registrars write their initials on the top right of any communication,” he said.

He added, “We are interested to read the story. We have been condemning this practice and we warned our staff that one day the culprit will be caught. These things happen but we could not get to the root of the matter. One employee was once interdicted in connection to this kind of thing.” He called on prison officials to verify some releases with court authorities to avoid releasing people before their time.

The warrants of commitment have a signature and stamp of the officer-in-charge of Zomba Central Prison, Fragment Phiri. Prisons spokesperson Evance Phiri on Thursday morning confirmed that the signature which was reflected on the original copy belonged to the office-in-charge. Phiri and another officer later on visited Nation Publications Limited to verify our documents which are the copy of the original with a court seal which the officials had. They later visited Chigona who told them what he told us.

“We have the original copy and there is a seal where the registrar has signed. Does your copy have a seal? If they [High Court] disown the original copy [then there is an issue]. Without the seal we cannot do anything,” said Phiri of the documents which were disowned by Chigona.

Both numbers we had for Chiuta had been off since the time we tried to make him release the prisoner.

Sequel: Nation on Sunday, 5 June 2011

Peter Mukhito Police Chief acts on officers who aided early releases.

Barely two weeks after Weekend Nation exposed the syndicate some prison and court officials use to aid them in the release of prisoners before their time, police in Zomba have arrested three officers.  Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito said on Friday the arrest follows intensive investigations into the syndicate after the expose by the paper. “We suspect there are many more,” Mukhito said.

Mulanje Prison officer-in-charge Frederick Potolani, 48, of Chiutsa Village from Chief Kaphuka in Dedza and Voice Victor Masache, 38, of Ellioti Village from Chief Mwambo in Zomba and police prosecutor Nelson Jobe, 38, of Mdimba Village, Chief Mazengera in Lilongwe were arrested on June 1 2011. Eastern Region Police statement signed by spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa says the officers had fake documents demanding release of two serving prisoners convicted of armed robbery on April 27 2011 at Zomba Central Prison.

Weekend Nation, of Saturday June 18 2011 reported about the arrest of another warder Francis Gondolo of Mulanje Prison who collected K20 000 from a prisoner to aid his release.

* The Nation of 27 June 2011 also reported about an arrest of a senior court clerk at Mulanje Magistrate’s Court, Catherine Mphatso on June 20 2011. She was charged with forgery of judicial documents.

KHADIJA SHARIFE

Al Jazeera, June 2011 

‘The Great Billion Dollar Drug Scam’

Part One:

Alongside pneumococcal diseases such as meningitis and pneumonia, rotavirus-related diarrhoea is a primary childhood killer in developing countries, thought to snuff out the lives of 500,000 children each and every year. An overwhelming 85 per cent of these children are African and Asian.

British-based drug corporation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently offered a five-year deal to supply poor nations with 125 million doses of the rotavirus vaccine – Rotarix – at $2.50 a dose, just 5% of the current going price in Western markets. Through the GAVI group, the international vaccine agency financed by developed nations such as the UK, it is hoped that GSK and pharmaceutical multinational Merck – who, between them, dominate the rotavirus vaccine market – will provide a secure line of low-cost drugs for as many as forty countries in the near future.

But is it really a discount, and if so, who is paying the cost?

The financing mechanism subsidising the vaccine is named the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a pot created by the G8, as well as the World Bank and the Gates Foundation, as a “pull” incentive for drug multinationals to consider developing countries’ long-term markets for pharmaceutical “public goods”, such as vaccines. Rotarix has taken off well: Since 2007, some 50 million children – through 100 million doses – have already benefited from Rotarix; by 2009, global Rotarix sales reached $440 million - increasing by 50 per cent from 2008, and Merck’s Rotateq reach $564 million in sales. GSK Chief executive Andrew Witty described the pricing structure as, “neither a gimmick nor a one-off philanthropic gesture”, but rather “part of a concerted strategy to change our business model” – designed to combine “commercial success with long-term sustainable contributions”.

Pricing structures and profits

Drug companies such as GSK have often claimed that the high cost of “innovation” ie: research and development (R&D) is between $1bn and $1.7bn to bring a new drug to market. The AMC and GAVI – collecting some $4.3bn to finance purchase of vaccinations, were designed with the premise that the high cost of drug multinationals’ R&D must be met. During the past several decades, the pharmaceutical industry in the US – more than half of which comprises European-based companies – has largely been the most profitable industry in the nation’s economy, thanks to mechanisms such as the lack of a government-imposed pricing structure. “Free pricing and fast approval secure rapid access to innovation without rationing,” said Daniel Vasella, the former head of (Swiss-based) Novartis, of the advantages of doing business in the US. Drug multinationals claim that US consumers are forced to fund the necessary research and development in order to keep global innovation going. In Australia, Europe, as well as Canada – the source of much prescription drug “re-importing” by US citizens, where drugs sometimes sell for half the going US price – governments ensure pricing structures render patented drugs affordable. While drug multinationals generate considerable profits from these countries, about 50 per cent of global drug industry profits are generated in the US. In 2006, for instance, global prescription drug sales totalled more than $640bn – of which almost $300bn were US-generated sales.  But the real deception is less the Machiavellian tactics used by Big Pharma to Botox the bottom line than the terrible myth behind the “true” price of innovation: the $1bn pill. From 1996-2005  Big Pharma firms spent $739bn on marketing and administration (M&A): “Administration” costs here include accounting, executive salaries (including bonuses, stock options etc) – as well as human resources expenditure. “Marketing”, meanwhile, consists of direct-to-consumer advertising, sales pitches and free samples to doctors, alongside advertising in medical journals.

A closer look at drug cost

During the same 1996-2005 period, drug companies invested $288bn in R&D and $43bn in property and equipment, while generating $558bn in profit. From the outset, it is possible to see that R&D ranks second to last in terms of expenses. But the breakdown of R&D itself is opaque: companies do not list actual expenses for the development of a particular drug, claiming that information comprises proprietary and/or confidential commercial secrets. Yet, according to the Harvard Business Review: “The cost per new approved drug has increased more than 800 per cent since 1987, or 11 per cent per year for almost two decades.”  Drug corporations such as Novartis and GSK state that companies producing generic drugs – often Indian – are able to bypass such costs, and sell their “copied” drugs for a fraction of the price of the patented product – often undercutting the intercontinental firms by as much as 65-99 per cent.

The “$1bn cost” is derived from a 2003 study [PDF] published in the Journal of Health Economics by Joe DiMasi et al from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. The authors and their organisation claimed that the study was unbiased, despite the fact that the Tufts Center is itself some 65 per cent financed by drug companies.  Though the findings have been normalised as factual by the media, the facts have long since been debunked by independent specialists. The authors surveyed ten large pharmaceutical corporations (between them responsible for 42 per cent of R&D expenditure in the US, where the bulk of such work is carried out), examining the R&D costs of 68 randomly selected drugs, and determined the cost of the development of each at $802 million (elevated to $1bn when adjusted for inflation).  As the data was submitted confidentially by the drug companies to the authors, there is no way to verify the quality of the information, nor was there any accounting for the potential volume of intra-company corporate mispricing. The names of the firms were not mentioned; nor were the names of the drugs, the type of drugs; or the status – whether a priority drug, comprising advanced treatment, or a “me too” drug – ie: a variation of products already on the market.

‘Demythologising’ the costs

For starters, the $802 million figure failed to take into account the opaque and strange manner of accounting involved, beginning with “capitalised costs”. According to the authors, R&D expenditures, “must be capitalised at an appropriate discount rate – the expected return that investors forego during development when they invest in pharmaceutical R&D instead of an equally risky portfolio of financial securities”. As Marcia Angell, US physician, former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine and senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, stated: “The Tufts consultants simply tacked it on to the industry’s out-of-pocket costs. That accounting maneuver nearly doubled the $403 million to $802 million.”  So, when taking into account updated costs by PhRMA (2006), increasing overall R&D to $1.32bn, more than $650 million has just been included as “research and development” by drug companies claiming mythical profits that might have been generated, had they invested in, say, Wall Street – and not the scientific “innovation” used to justify gross profits from exclusive patents.

In the journal BioSocieties, sociologist Donald Light and economist Rebecca Warburton “demythologise” the costs of R&D drug development by also analysing the tax breaks involved in R&D costs. The US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) revealed: “The net cost of every dollar spent on research must be reduced by the amount of tax avoided by that expenditure.” The authors used data from official sources such as the Tax Policy Center, to reveal additional tax savings of 39 per cent. Cumulatively, taxpayer subsidies and credits reduced the overall costs from $403 million to $201 million.

Tax secrecy

Moreover, as an Ernst & Young “Tax Planning” article explains, R&D costs are usually generated or shifted to high tax jurisdictions like the US to offset costs. Meanwhile, profits generated by patents are often “re-located” to low-tax jurisdictions. Yet the cost of R&D does not included “avoided” tax.  Not surprisingly, most pharmaceutical companies are also based in low-tax secrecy jurisdictions such as Delaware in the US, where profits can be shifted into passive profit and intellectual holding companies. Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline – as well as over 60 per cent of Fortune 500 multinationals, all maintain entities in Delaware, taking full advantage of legal and financial opacity tools. In addition to banking secrecy and zero disclosure of beneficial owners, Delaware allows for parent companies to establish holding companies within two days, producing nothing, conducting no economic activity in the state, and generally hosting just one shareholder (the parent company). Such entities, allowing the parent company to pay the newly created entity a “fee” for use of IP, serves as a passive conduit converting taxable income to passive non-taxable profit. The entity’s sole purpose is to own and ‘manage’ laundered income generated from IP. The gigantic legal expenses incurred by specialists for developing patents, legal defence, sourcing the tax havens and other IP-related issues constitute more costs – included as R&D. This tax optimisation strategy closely resembles that of “high-tech” companies depending on intangible capital for the bulk of their wealth.  According to Forbes magazine, by 1999, three of the four richest people in the world made their fortune from intellectual property rights. They owed their fortune, said Michael Perelman, to “Microsoft, one of the major holders of intellectual property rights, befitting the so-called New Economy in which ‘DOS Capital’ has supplanted Das Kapital”.

Profits from AIDS treatment

Intellectual property rights management can be a lucrative business indeed. The first HIV/AIDS treatment, azidothymidine [AZT], sold under the brand name Retrovir, was manufactured by the company Burroughs Wellcome, later incorporated into GSK. In 1983, two years after AIDS was first reported, the US National Institutes of Health and the Pasteur Institute in Paris identified its cause – the HIV retrovirus. In that same year, Samuel Broder, head of the National Cancer Institute (an NIH branch), established a global team to screen antiviral tools, including the AZT molecule discovered by the Michigan Cancer Foundation, subsequently acquired by Burroughs Wellcome. Broder’s NIH-NCI team, alongside scholars at Duke University, discovered the effectiveness of AZT against the AIDS virus and conducted early clinical trials in 1985. As Marcia Angell explained in her illustrative book, The Truth About Drug Companies, Burroughs Wellcome immediately patented the drug and “carried out the later trials that enabled it to receive FDA approval in 1987″ after a review of only a few months. The corporation charged patients upwards of $10,000 per year for treatment and heavily congratulated themselves on the achievement of life-saving medicine.After one such self-congratulatory letter by Burroughs Wellcome’s CEO to the New York Times, Broder and his colleagues from the NCI and Duke University responded angrily, stating: “The Company specifically did not develop or provide the first application of the technology for determining whether a drug like AZT can suppress live AIDS virus in human cells, nor did it develop the technology to determine at what concentration such an effect might be achieved in humans. Moreover, it was not first to administer AZT to a human being with AIDS, nor did it perform the first clinical pharmacology studies in patients. It also did not perform the immunological and virological studies necessary to infer that the drug might work, and was therefore worth pursuing in further studies. All of these were accomplished by the staff of the NCI working with the staff of Duke University.”

Driving the point home, they added: “Indeed, one of the obstacles to the development of AZT was that Burroughs Wellcome did not work with live AIDS virus, nor wish to receive samples from AIDS patients.”

Killer tactics

Paradoxically, the drug Retrovir was classified by the company as an “orphan drug” ie: a drug where there exists a market of fewer than 200,000 people – and therefore not likely to be commercially profitable. This was done to claim 50 per cent credit from the government for the costs of clinical trials. In 2005, GSK was accused of artificially boosting their short-term profit by not increasing production to meet drastically increasing demand – thus creating “scarcity” for their patented product. This was seen as a last bid attempt to milk the patent which was to expire in September 2005. Shortly thereafter, the US government approved generic versions of the drug. AZT and other AIDS treatment remained blockbuster drugs for GlaxoSmithKline, generating $2.4bn profits in the first six months of 1997, thanks in particular, to AZT and 3TC. By 1998, AIDS was being referred to as a “world-wide health crisis”, considered by many as, “an epidemic”. GSK subsequently made billions of dollars from a patent, controlled a market, and affected the lives of billions of people worldwide, for something they did not invent. They did claim, however, that they conceived of it working. This notion was enough to exclude the NCI scientists, including Broder, from being listed as inventors.

But is this a one-off example?

The Great Billion Dollar Scam: Part Two

Innovations and free-rides

Ironically, the Tufts Center study by Joe DiMasi et al, which estimated the price of bringing a new drug to market to be more than $800m, drastically skewed R&D costs by basing analysis not on the general state of approved drugs but instead on “self-originating NCEs” or “New Molecular Entities (NMEs)” which comprise only a small portion of drugs approved annually by the FDA – estimated at 35 per cent (1990-2000) – a figure that has since decreased in the past decade. Pharmaceutical “innovation” is determined by two crucial factors: a) the creation of a “new molecular entity”(NME) – which in itself may or may not be useful for treatment but which signifies the introduction of a new, distinct molecular form, and b) an NME that constitutes a”priority drug”: ie: a drug that offers, in the words of the FDA,”a major advance in treatment or which provides treatment where no adequate therapy exists” – in short, a therapeutic advance for serious illnesses.

Under the 1992 Prescription Drug User Act, the FDA operates via a two-tiered system of review: Standard Review (S) applied to drugs that offer only minor improvements over existing marketed drugs, and Priority Review (P), a fast-track – a six month process since 2003 – pretty speedy for any company who wants to drive through “innovation”. Though the two comprise separate categories, by blurring the definitions, pharmaceutical companies are often able to misrepresent NMEs, with “innovations” justifying the high costs of patents ie: exclusive government-approved marketing rights. From 2006- 2009, just 48 drug innovations (P+ NME) were approved by the FDA, while an average of 84 per cent of research funding comes from US taxpayer sources, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Light and Warburton conclude that “the

net corporate investment in research to discover important new drugs is about 1.2 per cent of sales, not 17-19 per cent”.

So, while drug companies claim that the EU has suffered from a lack of innovation, trailing behind US R&D expenditure by 15 per cent in 2004, little of this figure corresponds to reality. Easy “free-riding” of the US public funds and R&D is the primary reason why drug companies have flocked to the US. Just a quarter of NMEs are estimated by specialists as being actually developed by drug companies, instead, most are licensed from government/public-financed labs such as the NIH and universities – as well as smaller companies.

Acts and licensing

In 2002, then-CEO of GSK Bob Ingram spoke to the Wall Street Journal on the subject of licensing: “We’re not going to put our money in-house if there’s a better investment vehicle outside.” Ingram pointed out that GSK was eager to reach the levels of other companies, such as Merck, which received 35 per cent of its revenue from licensing. The cost differential between a licensed NME and one developed in-house is vast: a licensed NME costs just 10 per cent of actual R&D expenditure (2000) in contrast to an in-house developed NME at 74 per cent. In 2000, just 13 per cent of approved NMEs were developed in-house – a figure that has not drastically changed. The system of licensing came about via the Bayh-Dole Act – named after Senators Birch Bayh (D-Ind) and Robert Dole (R-Kans) – designed to enable universities and small businesses to patent discoveries that came about from NIH-financed research (the primary distributors of taxpayer funds for medical research) – thereafter granting the patents to pharmaceutical corporations in exchange for royalties. The Act did articulate taxpayer protection rights concerning non-exclusive licences – if the action “is necessary to alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied”, or the action “is necessary to meet public uses”. But Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Executive Memo changed tack, liberalising access to include coverage for large corporations. Prior to this, publicly financed discoveries were considered knowledge in the public domain. One further piece of legislation – the Stevenson-Wydler Act – removed the barriers between”publicly funded” systems (mainly the government but also universities) and the private sector.

Weighing the costs

In short, depending on whether or not the NMEs were developed in-house, estimates by Light and Warburton – in addition to other specialists, such as Angell – reveal the costs of R&D as more along the lines of $50m – $200m.
So much for the $1bn pill – but what of the costs of development for the Rotavirus vaccine?

Vaccines are often priced 40 – 100 times more than the cost of production. Drug companies claim that pharmaceutical research is very expensive and that R&D costs are extremely high. Unfortunately for GSK, the usual 5,000 or 6,000 clinical trial “subjects” – people involved in Phase III trials – drastically escalated to around 63,000 to 68,000 people – in order to rule out a perceived fatal side effect (intussusception) that forced Rotashield off the market some years earlier. Prior to the massive Phase III trial, the costs of GSK’s trials ranged from $1.8 million to $2.4 million, stated Light et al. Unlike Merck, GSK conducted many trials in developing countries, drastically lowering the potential costs. But even estimating at the higher range, the total costs for GSK’s Phase I – Phase III trials reached between $128m and $192m – for all 63,000-plus people.

Few of the clinical trials conducted in developing nations are investigated by the FDA. A 2008 Pfizer presentation [PDF]showed just 45 of 6,485 (0.7 per cent) of foreign trials were scrutinised. In 2008, more than 76 per cent of the people used for clinical drug trials were foreign “subjects” – some 232,532 people. The cheapened value of poorer peoples – including better “value for physician” must not be underestimated. One report, dated 2000, by the inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services, disclosed that physicians in the US were paid $10,000 per patient enrolled for a drug trial – plus a further $30,000 on enrolment of the sixth patient. Costs, no doubt, included as “research and development”. Aside from “cheapness”, in developing countries there exists far less regulation, oversight and awareness; and the poor are unlikely to litigate if and when damage/deaths occur as a consequence of the drug. This is particularly lethal when it comes to experimentation on children. More than 78 per cent of children-focused clinical trials were conducted outside of the US.

Vaccines and identification

The Rotarix vaccine was not developed in-house but was licensed in: In 1988, Richard Ward PhD isolated the human rotavirus strain and developed a live, orally deliverable vaccine candidate under a licensing agreement with the Virus Research Institute, which later merged with another company, to become Avant Immunotherapeutics, a small firm that has often received grants from the NIH.

Light, a professor of comparative health policy, and economist Warburton revealed in their paper analysing the development cost of the rotavirus vaccine, Avant funded a Phase II trial of Rotarix in 1997-1998 which found the drug gave protection in 89 per cent of cases. Light et al go on to write that, in 1997, GlaxoWellcome (later GSK) negotiated global rights and agreed, in exchange, to finance development costs, paid Avant $5.5 million and agreed royalties of 10 per cent on net sales.

The rotavirus vaccine signified a radical turning point in the introduction of vaccines: usually, poorer nations wait out a 15 or 20 year period. GSK’s rotavirus vaccination instead proceeded via regulatory approval not in the country of manufacture, but instead, the country of first intended use – Mexico.

Why not Africa or Asia?

Mexico proved the perfect site for introduction: since the 1990s, the government created, expanded and strengthened a “national surveillance system” for diarrhoeal disease, noted Walsh and Situ. Hospitals and clinics had well-equipped laboratories to identify infectious diseases; the Ministry of Health regularly monitored and reported cases, as did the clinics and hospitals, as part of the Mexican Social Security Institute (MSSI) system. Since 2004, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), comprising more than forty nations of the Americas, supported – along with other organisations – the development of rotavirus surveillance systems in countries including Argentina, El Salvador, Guyana, Uruguay, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras. Monitoring was engineered to”characterise the proportion of diarrhoeal hospitalisations attributable to a rotavirus infection, serotypes of circulating rotaviruses, and the seasonality of rotavirus infections”, writes Julia Walsh MD in The critical path for vaccine introduction [PDF]. This information is fed into economic analyses, a critical element in the countries’ decision on whether to introduce a vaccine.

The good news, for GSK, about Mexico and Brazil, is that the percentage of population targeted to be vaccinated is more than 98 per cent. In 2006, Duncan Steele from the Initiative for Vaccine Research (WHO) stated that the Rotarix vaccine was being introduced to Brazil, Panama, Venezuela and other countries – at a cost of $7 per dose for public health use. In 2004, Brazil purchased eight million doses (two doses per child), at the full $7 per dose. Ward would later say that rotavirus hospitalisations were estimated to be down by 59 per cent.

Efficient manufacturing?

Presently, unless Merck makes an entry into the international marketplace, there exists no competition for GSK which already describes itself as,”the main supplier of vaccines to UNICEF and GAVI”. According to GSK, PAHO and other aid agencies intend to purchase enough Rotarix to ensure immunisation for 80 per cent of the world’s children. Avant estimates that the global market for the drug will generate as much as $1.8bn annually. Neither GSK nor Merck have published a summary of their costs. Light and Warburton estimate that the cost of Rotarix – due to the incredibly large expense of the almost 70,000-person trial is as high $466 million, excluding capitalised costs – and that out-of-pocket costs could be recovered with a single year’s profit. From 2008 onward, sales totalled more than $1bn.

At “efficient” manufacturing costs of $1.50-$2 per dose, GSK will make a jolly profit from the “full price” in developed nations, and the 98 per cent successful vaccination target rate in countries such as Brazil. Once the five-year period is up, GSK – holding the global monopoly, will be embedded as part of the national health budget in 40 or more countries. GSK’s home country – the UK – donated the largest chunk of taxpayer funds to the AMC pot – at $1.34bn, while IP king Bill Gates offered a further $1bn. Gates claimed that he felt “great about the prices” GAVI received but acknowledged that Indian and Chinese manufacturers could bring the price down”somewhat” if they ramped up vaccine output.

No matter that drug companies like GSK actually sat on the GAVI board at the time such decisions were made.

Developed nations banging the trade-related intellectual property drum, and intellectual property captains including Gates, will not bypass the anti-competitive grip of patents – for which there exists no free market, and where all patent value is opaquely imputed by the company in question.

This is the flipside of “charity”, where the gap between those with access to medicine, and those without, is not only undeserved and systemically unjust – but also lethal. To paraphrase comedian Chris Rock, drug companies – or drug dealers, as he put it, don’t want to cure you (or kill you).

The money comes from making you live in need.

 

MUYAHEDIN AHMED ROBLE

Somalia report, 27-5-2011

What it Takes to Cover a Story in Somalia

A series story about kidnapping and piracy

The 29th of April was bad day. That day I was traveling to Mogadishu and Hobyo as part of my job for Somalia Report to investigate ‘How Pirates Spend The Ransom Money’. After a week in Mogadishu, I departed to Galkayo, via Hobyo, a small fishing village in the semi-autonomous region of Galmudug state, home to the infamous ship hijacking pirates of Somalia. Hobyo was, at one time, popular among local Somalis due to the abundance of fish in the town’s local waters. In the last four years, however, everything had changed.

Everywhere I looked there were abandoned wooden boats and other remnants of a formerly active fishing trade. Today, almost everyone in the city is armed as pirates, independent and clan militias, or as soldiers for the Galmudug state.

Sharif Wadad-Adde, the deputy chairman of the local administration, who was serving as my guide in Hobyo, told me to view an Iranian boat that had been shelled by NATO forces weeks earlier and with the accompaniment of police officer and my driver, I went to the scene to picture the damaged boat. Though I could not have known it at the time, this is where our tragedy began.

As soon as we arrived at the location, at approximately noon, eight armed men began to shoot in the direction of our vehicle, forcing our driver to immediately stop. Four of the armed men ordered us to get out of the car, as they continued to fire bursts from their weapons into the air and the ground to make sure we followed their commands while the other four men, who were also shooting, ordered us to turn around and leave Hobyo immediately.

Our driver stopped and moved to roll down his window to ask the gunmen what they wanted him to do. At that moment, one of the men fired his weapon in the direction of the driver, indicating for him not to move. The policeman traveling with us got out of the car to talk to the gunmen but they had not listened. Soon after, however, we decided to exit the vehicle, taking advantage of the fact that the two groups of gunmen were now arguing with each other and ignoring us for the moment. Seeing us leaving the car, however, attracted their attention and they ordered us to lie on the ground.

They moved quickly to search our vehicle. When they found my camera and the notebook, one of them shouted that I am Puntland security forces, and told the men to kill me immediately. At that moment, the men swarmed over me, pointing their AK-47 rifles and ordering me not to move.

A man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, ordered me to stand up and for the gunmen to take me to a different, unknown location. I began to weep, thinking that they would kill me, and I tried to explain that I was not a member of Puntland but accusing me of lying.

My driver told me not to go with them, so I refused and then they grabbed me and began to drag me away from the car. At that moment, two vehicles approached some distance away, heading towards us. The man in charge ordered his men to stop the oncoming cars, with one militia man to stay behind to prevent me from leaving.

Even at this distance, I could see that when the two cars stopped, Sharif Wadad-Adde, the deputy chairman of Hobyo, along with his officers, got out of the cars and began to talk with the gunmen to find out what was going on. The gunmen refused to listen. I then attempted to run towards them, but the AK-47s fired in my direction and the shooters grabbed me, shoved me to the ground, and once again began to drag me away. Soon they stopped dragging me and left me lying down, with one gunman assigned to watch me and prevent me from escaping.

However, the argument between Sharif and the gunmen had escalated into an angry shouting match, despite the fact that the men were pointing their guns at him. He got back in his car, turned around, and drove away. I immediately grew more worried, despite his words, and remembered the warnings of my loved ones back home.

Village elders, from the same clan as the militia men, came and left several times, attempting to free me, but had no success. Eventually, and much to my terror, given the previous threats, Sharif returned with a larger, armed force. The gunmen stood me up and pointed their weapons at me. The two groups remained approximately one kilometer apart. The elders once again attempted to release me, as they walked hurriedly back and forth between the two several times in their negotiations, though there seemed to be no progress.

It was at this time that I decided to do something to save myself and offered the gunmen to take my expensive camera and let me go. They refused. At approximately 6:00pm, however, there was a change between the gunmen, Sharif’s force, and the village elders. The discussions between the groups became less angry and they seemed to be now having a calm talk. Luckily I was freed without any blood being shed. The second part of the report is about Piracy money.

Part II: How Pirates Spend Their Ransom Money

MUHYADIN AHMED ROBLE, Somalia Report 06/03/2011

Hobyo, an ancient coastal city once known by mariners for its fresh water, is now known for pirates. The tiny village is approximately 500 kilometers northeast of Mogadishu in Mudug region.  Hayle Mohamed who runs his 150 men gang had been involved the hijacking of at least thirteen ships including the Ukrainian merchant ship MV Faina with its cargo of Russian battle tanks. He received approximately more than $1 million out of $3.2 million ransom paid for MV Faina.

“Although it is a large amount of money, it almost immediately ends up vanishing into nothing,” he said, “The money comes and goes quite easily.” Mohamed, 40s, was also one of the main shareholders of the $3.5 million ransom from the owners of the Spanish trawler Alakrana, which was released in late 2009.  Mohamed now owns only a newly built house in Hobyo and many luxury Toyotas, “nothing else,” he said.  Mohamed who is one of the better-known names in the Somali piracy business commented, “When you heard my story you must have thought I was a multi-millionaire. I am because I own the most expensive Land Cruisers, which cost almost $30,000 USD each,” said Mohamed who was speaking from a new Land Cruiser.

This Land Cruiser was the sixth that Mohamed had purchased since his career in piracy began four years earlier. Such is the wealth of many pirates that, when their expensive vehicles are even only slightly damaged, they are often returned to the seller and another is purchased, rather than simply repairing the damage. “It is hard for me to take a car to Galkayo so whenever it broke down I left it behind and ordered a new one, more expensive than the one before it,” he said proudly. After a short drive, we arrived his house, at which sat two Land Cruisers, both of which he claimed were broken down. For that reason, there are scores of Land Cruisers throughout Hobyo and along the coast, abandoned over some small damage, such as a cracked windshield or scratches to the paint.

Although the money was spent almost immediately on luxury cars, drugs and female companions, some of it must be reinvested into weaponry and other tools that facilitate the hijacking of vessels at sea. “We use part of ransom to buy sophisticated weapons and speedboats,” Mohamed noted.

It is estimated that the pirates received approximately $240 million in ransom last year, accounting for 92% of all global hijacking incidents. The ransom money is divided amongst the operation’s investors, who are guaranteed 50% of the final payment. The hijackers themselves take the next 35%, while guards on the ships get 10%, and 5% is given to local residents and the city administrators. The deputy mayor of Galmudug’s Hobyo administration, Sharif Wadad-Adde, declined to comment that claims. Puntland officials were tight-lipped when asked if they received any such funds.

A pirate leader Rage Abdi was responsible for the hijacking of the MV Filitsa, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship which was released for $3 million in ransom. Despite the huge sums of money he earned, he is now growing poor and has been forced to sell off his two Land Cruisers, houses, and his lands in Hobyo. He is raising a sufficient sum of cash in order to invest in a future hijacking to return himself to his earlier levels of wealth and status. However, the small sum he may be able to raise will not be enough because such investment costs at least $100 USD.

But he will earn some of the money from the ransom of the Liberian-owned ship MV Polar, which is currently in the hands of Mohamed’s pirate gang. The MV Polar owners offered to pay $10 million in ransom, but the kidnappers – increasingly emboldened with each successful hijacking – firmly demanded $15 million, according to Hayle Mohamed, the leader of captors.

Rage and Mohamed interviewed separately, told me that they spent the money also paying for elaborate weddings.  “We give money to the families of our wives and spend large amounts of money to get women who may live a great distance away, if we find them attractive enough,” said Rage. “Our money goes quickly; we spend thousands of dollars for mobile credits so that we can talk to anyone anywhere at any time, be they family or girlfriends. We talk all day long,” he stated.

“Our Toyotas cost $30,000 USD or more each, and fuel costs can take up almost another $30,000,” he said “Our cars are constantly on the move, all day long, and that costs fuel so you can guess how much fuel we use each month. It is countless.”

Hobyo does not have a petroleum station or even a single garage to repair the pirates’ expensive vehicles, so the nearest place to get enough fuel is Galkayo, which is approximately 260 kilometers from Hobyo. Fuel costs in these towns is high, for a variety of reasons, so in addition to the fuel being spent during the drive to and from these towns, the pirates must also pay exorbitantly for any fuel purchased there.

 

Nicholas Ibekwe

Next, 9 January 2011

Gowon and Bayero worked for Pfizer 

As the opportunity for the victims of the 1996 Pfizer clinical trial in Kano of getting satisfactorily compensated continues to hang in the balance, a NEXT investigation has uncovered the despicable conduct of prominent Nigerians who sold their conscience to partake in what the late President Musa Yar’Adua described as “Pfizer’s blood money”.

In 2007, 11 years after the Trovan trials, the federal government and the Kano State government finally woke up to their responsibility of holding Pfizer accountable for using Nigerian infants as guinea pigs. Two separate suits, civil and criminal, were filed against the company. Pfizer, which had earlier approached a suit filed by the victims with levity, apparently realising the issue was no longer child’s play, decided it was in its best interest to reach a negotiated settlement.

 

Clandestine negotiations

NEXT investigations show that George Bush, the former president of the United States, sent his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, as well as former diplomat, Thomas Pickering, to establish contact with late president, Umaru Yar’Adua, with a view to reaching a settlement.

Apart from the Kano State and federal government officials, as well as senior Pfizer employees and counsels who made up the committee, NEXT can exclusively reveal that Pfizer also secured the services of prominent Nigerians for what was termed “extensive informal contacts and understandings.”

Commenting on the manner in which Pfizer approached the negotiations, Simmons Cooper Partners, the law firm that acted as external counsel to both governments (Kano State and Federal Government), said “Pfizer adopted tactics that included using political or non-legal initiatives to engage the two Governments involved into accepting its terms.”

In the letter, sent to NEXT by SimmonsCooper Partners, it was stated that Pfizer “employed lobbying tactics, while appearing to also discuss the issue in the context of a legal matter.”

As part of Pfizer’s “lobbying tactics”, it secured the services of a former head of state, Yakubu Gowon, and the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero (represented by a senior traditional ruler), amongst other unnamed political elites especially in the North who, NEXT discovered, were instrumental to influencing the Kano State government to significantly reduce its claim.

“Meetings were protracted, complex and frustrating, and the negotiating process adopted by Pfizer greatly undermined the committee and government representatives by also reaching out to influential persons that they believed could seal the terms in their favour,” said Simmons Cooper, in a corroboration of what our source told us.

The significance of the influence exerted by Mr. Gowon, the representative of the Emir of Kano, and the other influential Nigerians employed by Pfizer as lobbyists, is better appreciated when one considers the fact that the Kano State claim, which was initially $2 billion dollars, was drastically reduced to $150 million, and finally to $75 million.

Pfizer, in an apparent attempt to justify the role played by politicians and traditional leaders in their getting what is literally a slap on the wrist, had stated through its attorney, in a letter seen by our reporter, that “informal contacts and understandings” are common in multi-faceted negotiations of this nature.

Gowon’s derogatory statements

One of the prominent Nigerians employed by Pfizer, Mr. Gowon, was apparently so determined to get a favourable settlement for Pfizer that he, against what must have been his better judgement, let his tongue loose.

During one of those meetings where terms of settlement were being negotiated,  Mr. Gowon, who was representing Pfizer which earns over $18 billion annually in profit, worked hard to secure a paltry settlement. He is quoted as telling negotiators that the worth of the life of a child born and bred in Kano cannot be compared to that of a child born and bred in the United States. This was apparently in response to entreaties that Pfizer should pay the same rate of compensation it would pay had the trial taken place in the United States.

This comment, NEXT gathered, generated deep anger and criticism among those at the meeting and the former head of state, sensing he had overstepped the mark, quickly apologised and begged that the comment not be repeated outside the meeting room. A source present at the meeting, who wants to remain anonymous, confirmed that Mr. Gowon actually made these comments attributed to him.

Lukman Ishola, counsel to the victims of the Trovan trial, described the role of the Emir of Kano and Mr. Gowon as shameful. “What Gowon did was like asking Bill Clinton to negotiate on behalf of Al-Qaeda. What Pfizer did in Kano is not short of terrorism, because they had a prior knowledge of the harm the drug is capable of causing, yet they deliberately administered the drug to sick infants,” Mr. Ishola said.

It is not clear how much Messers Gowon and Ado Bayero got paid for working (lobbying on behalf of Pfizer) but our research indicates that lobbyists in America, Pfizer’s home country, make between N1.3 billion ($9 million) and N10.5 billion ($70 million) a year.

However, Pfizer spokesperson, Chris Loder, said in response to our enquiry that “any suggestion that Pfizer has made improper payments to government officials or anyone else is false.”

Mr. Gowon has not responded to an email enquiry we sent to him as at the time we went to press. Our efforts to reach Mr. Bayero for his response to these allegations were also unsuccessful. His secretary insisted he would not talk to our reporter on the phone. He also did not respond to text messages asking if our Kano reporter can visit him to hear his side of the story.

Aondoakaa was involved too 

Our investigations further uncover various underhand dealings that led to the final settlement between Pfizer and the government. The multinational drug manufacturer employed both inducement and subtle pressure on political and traditional leaders. Pfizer officials at various times used a Wing Aviation chartered flight to travel from the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos to Kano. During those trips, bags which are suspected to have contained money, exchanged hands.

NEXT investigations also reveal that apart from official meetings held in Dubai and London to negotiate a settlement (which we learnt was funded by Kano State government), other clandestine meetings were held in London, where participants were paid handsome honorariums by Pfizer, which, we also gathered, paid all the bills accrued from the trips.

Another person who played a pivotal role in letting Pfizer get away with what is no more than a symbolic settlement was former attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa. Despite his saying that he did not know anything about the settlement, that he was already out of office when the settlement deal was signed, NEXT investigations have categorically found that he was the mastermind of the settlement deal.

“I don’t know about this money you are talking about. I didn’t touch a kobo. The lawyers were dealing with Pfizer directly and the matter was still on when I left office,” Mr. Aondoakaa had told our reporter in a previous interview.

But according to Simmons Cooper Partners, the federal government “is primarily represented by the AGF, and Aandoaka served as the lead counsel on behalf of the federal government. He in fact held meetings with and concluded the discussions with Pfizer for the FGN, in our absence,” the lawyers said.

A family affair

Mr. Aondoakaa, we gathered, invited his cousin, Paul Orhii, now the director general of National Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to join the negotiation team, describing him as an “expert” on such matters. Protest by members of the government negotiation team that Mr. Orhii, due to his relative inexperience as a lawyer may not be equipped to handle such a high profile and sensitive case fell on deaf ears, as the former AGF insisted on having him in the team.

Eventually, our sources say, members of the federal government negotiating team were sidelined and Mr. Orhii, together with the former AGF, took charge of talks with Pfizer. A reliable source who was fully in the know about the negotiations told NEXT that Mr. Aondoakaa was so determined to mastermind the proceedings that he stopped consulting counsels to the government when important decisions were made. Our investigation also reveals that Mr. Aondoakaa only sent the final settlement papers to the government lawyers for their signature after the decision on a settlement had been reached.

It is still not clear if Mr. Aondoakaa got any pecuniary benefit in the Pfizer deal, but NEXT did confirm that contrary to what has been set as standard procedure where all parties, Federal lawyers and Kano State lawyers were always present at all negotiations with Pfizer, Mr. Aondoakaa did hold at least one clandestine meeting in Dubai with Pfizer representatives.

It isn’t clear what was discussed at the meeting, but according to our source, it came as quite a shock to government lawyers when they realised the man who had essentially employed them to act on his and government behalf was now holding direct calendestine meetings with Pfizer.

Bello Adoke was not candid

NEXT investigations also reveal the Attorney General of the Federation, Bello Adoke, was less than straight forward when he told our reporter in an interview we did in November last year that the Pfizer settlement had nothing to do with him. “He (Mr. Aondoakaa) is the person who decided the issues of the case before I came here as the AGF. As for the terms of the settlement, what I am told is that the case was settled under a non-disclosure legal term,” Mr. Adoke had said.

However, our investigation shows that as at the time the negotiations were underway, Mr. Adoke was working for Pfizer. Indeed, he attended every meeting held both in Dubai and London. On one of such meetings held on March 5, 2008 at the office of the AGF, Mr. Adoke was listed alongside Damian Dodo, Anthony Idigbe, Sam Nwakohu, and Ebelechukwu Egeonu as Nigerian counsels to Pfizer. So while he may not have been Attorney General at the time, as a Pfizer lawyer, he was fully conversant with the case.

Ken Opala

Saturday Nation, 28 May 2011

Lush Mrima Hill may be a death trap for unsuspecting residents

From afar, the hill appears as a forest covered bump. Its lush-green backdrop is a magnet to treasure seekers and those in want of a place to resettle. Hardly has the hill failed farmers, the thousands who depend on it for a livelihood – bountiful maize, leafy vegetables. But that is far as it goes. Mrima Hill, a 323-metre rise in Msambweni in the heart of Kwale County, 60 km from Mombasa Town, may be a killer, top scientists warn – not because of its high soil fertility, which is known to attract conflicts among land speculators in many parts of the world. The soils, nay rocks, are ominous to human health.

Exactly 20 years ago Prof Jayanti Patel, head of Geophysics Department, University of Nairobi, warned that Mrima Hill could be a deathtrap, and asked relevant authorities to evacuate those residing in parts of it. Its radiation levels are more than 50 per cent over and above what is considered normal, or safe, his studies showed. According to his findings, the broad dome-shaped hill comprises deeply weathered rock with high doses of radioactive elements – thorium, zinc, nobium, lead, strontium and yttrium. The results followed “an exhaustive survey of radiation in the area … in order to assess the radiation dose with regard to health and environmental pollution”. Interestingly, the residents had placed themselves in line of danger – excavating soil for use on buildings, even using water from nearby borehole.

During the study, “Our meter went off the scale”, Prof Patel, with four degrees and a postgraduate diploma earned in Kenya and Canada, recollected a fortnight ago in his humble office at the Chiromo Campus, the University of Nairobi. He immediately recalled what an old man in the Mrima village had whispered to him about people who had worked on a nearby mine, thus “the people who worked here became thinner and thinner and died. They had skin diseases”. (A huge dugout exists where mining took place)

Great Health Hazard

In scientific-speak, the upper and lower parts of Mrima hill “have an annual radiation of 10,670 mrems and 1,372 mrems (a measurement of radiation) respectively. “These doses are approximately 53 times higher than the natural background dose”, what the International Commission on Radiological Protection considers normal, Prof Patel observed in his research paper, Environmental Radiation Survey of the Area of High Natural Radioactivity of Mrima Hill of Kenya, published in September 1991. He noted that the area should remain a forest conservation zone. “The (radiation) levels observed in Mrima Hill area are a risk to health and environment … the area should be declared “out of bounds” to all people,” Prof Patel warned.

“Consequently Mrima Hill is a great health hazard.”

Two decades on, there have been no evictions. Rather, there has been further encroachment on Mrima Hill and its environs, to an extent about 40,000 inhabit the place. In fact, eight years after Prof Patel’s finding, a constructor used part of the material from the hill to carpet the 21-km Kwegu-Jegu Road in Majoreni, not far from Mrima Hill in April 1999. More material was used on another road, Lunga Lunga-Msambweni.

The consequent row over this road development moved into Parliament, where MPs, among them Raila Odinga (Langata Constituency), harangued the government for negligence in protecting its people against high radiation. (See excerpts of Hansard recordings elsewhere in this report).

The Government said it would investigate. The then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Prof Julius Meme promised to remove the 3,000 tonnes material used to reseal. The workers on the road and a further 25,000 people who lived nearby were to be screened. His decision was preceded by a meeting of the Radiation Protection Board, the regulatory agency established by law to protect the public and radiation workers from harmful radiation.

Again, nobody was tested, no material was removed. In an interview with officials of the Board, it emerges that residents were not tested because subsequent tests showed that the material used was not a threat to human health but “on the borderline of what is stated in the standards (1000 Bq/kg)”. Interestingly though, these standards were not in force at the time, or had not been established when the road was redone.

“The external radiation exposure from the roads in the inhabited areas is below the prescribed limit to the public which is 1mSv/year,” the Board said in a response to a questionnaire from this writer last week.

Yet this figure appears to contradict Prof Patel’s findings, which noted a level of 106.7 milli-sievert in the lower and upper parts of Mrima Hill. (Prof Patel says the annual limit of effective dose is equivalent to 50 milli-sievert)

For two years, this writer has scoured Kwale County in search of any possible relationship between the high radioactivity levels in the area and incidences of various diseases associated with radiation (cancer and birth deformities), what scientists call “the epidemiological” link. What comes out is that not much research has been done about this. And the residents know little about the risks they are being exposed to.

Epidemiological Connection

This article doesn’t pretend to conclusively link radioactivity to diseases in Kwale. However, it notes the coincidence between the relatively high birth abnormalities and cancer cases in the area. It also questions why, despite the evidence available, authorities have failed to act to move the population resident in this area – or undertake measures to prevent them from exposure to the elements.

“It should be considered a scandal,” said a former top administrator, Coast Province. “We kept asking the questions, while I was serving the government in the 1990s. Why didn’t we act when the evidence was there, that the people’s health was threatened? We even didn’t carry out any research even after the complaints.”

Radiation is always around us. Drinking water, body contact, the sun’s rays, among many other factors, exposes one to radiation. But in these cases, the levels are minimal. It’s widely accepted that an average exposure from nature is 300 mrems/year is normal. Thus, dose values range from 100 mrems to 200 mrems/year. But one part of Mrima has levels of up to 10,670 mrems.

High radiation (above 10,000 mrems/year) could cause complications. Indeed, radiation causes ionization, which eventually affects body cells – it can break the DNA. Damaged body cells can cause cancer. High radiation can imbalance the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight diseases or any infections. Radiation above 50,000 mrems can cause cancers such as leukemia, breast, bladder, ovarian, liver etc.

For the unborn baby, it can result in small brain size and mental retardation.

“Radioactivity affects the genes. It can cause cancer. It can cause birth defects,” says Dr George Mutuma, the Head of Pathology and Oncology Research Unit, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). “There’s largely a link between radioactivity and birth malformations.”

Implicitly, habitants of the contentious areas of Mrima Hill, or those who come into contact with its environment, expose themselves to the effects of elevated radiation. Although no epidemiological studies have been undertaken, the high incidence of cancer and the unexplained sequence of cases of conjoined twins (also called Siamese twins) reported over the past few years, all linked to Kwale County, have left experts baffled. The case of conjoined twins is what puzzles more. Out of the four recent cases of conjoined twins reported countrywide, three either come from Kwale or had one of their parents from this area.

Experts interviewed at the Coast are yet to undertake studies that may connect radioactivity to birth defects. Without the benefit of such linkages, they blame nutrition, the lack of it. But they all call for more research, to establish the relatively high cases of conjoined twins linked to Kwale.

Indeed, in the absence of such studies, medical experts, cautious as they are, look at the empirical evidence. One of them is Dr Twahir Hemed, a paedrician consultant at the Coast General Hospital. He says the lack of proper nutrition explains the cases. On April 6, 2011, the Daily Nation carried a story titled “doctors pondering rising cases of Siamese twins”, in which Dr Hamed was quoted to have “said such cases have been on the increase and there is need to investigate the causes”.

Dr Jilo Helton, a consultant doctor at Msambweni District Hopsital is also convinced the cases could be attributed to nutrition. It is about “nutritional factors that make the pregnancy develop better,” Dr Helton says. “There’s high prevalence of anaemia in this place. What is needed are food supplements.”

It’s instructional to note the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986. Years after, Ukraine, an area affected by the Chernobyl incident, reported elevated incidence of conjoined twins. There were six cases between 2000 and 2007.

Cancer Incidence

 

A key hospital administrator at the Coast General Hospital, the largest referral institution in Coast Province, told this writer last month, thus “we have had very peculiar forms of cancer here, especially in Taita and Kwale (counties), in particular in places with titanium. What we need is a conclusive study.” (Kwale, with a population of 650,000, and its surrounding has 10 per cent of the world’s known titanium deposits)

This year alone, Kwale Hospital has referred two cancer suspect cases to Mombasa for screening, since the hospital lacks cancer testing kit. Within the same period, the hospital noted dozens of birth defects. At Msambweni Hospital, within the same Kwale County, one in two cancer tests proved “positive”, said an officer involved in outreach screening. “We need funds to aggressively go out and test virtually all women. It’s a big problem.”

In some countries, authorities have legislation that enables them to help track and prevent birth defects. America’s Birth Defects Prevention Act provides for the establishment of a national information Clearing house on birth defects, the National Centre for birth Defects. In Kenya, authorities don’t even follow up on cases of conjoined twins. Thus, no information is available about the cause.

Yet the Mrima populace is in the dark about the controversy over high radioactivity they have been exposed to. “We keep hearing these stories but we are yet to get official government communication. This place is expanding and there are people very close to the forest. Nobody has stopped people from getting to live on the hill,” says Samuel Chale Mrinah, the Mamba village elder, Dzombo Location. “We don’t know about the issue of radioactivity but what we know is that we have been hit by strange diseases here.”

On the day this writer interviewed the elder, the village had just seen a three-year old child admitted to Coast General Hospital for treatment of brain tumour. “It happens. We have had many diseases, such as skin diseases,” says Mrinah.

Classified Report

As early as 1950s, studies on Mrima Hill (which is a kaya) revealed elevated levels of radiation. In 1966, two scientists found nobium element and traces of radioactivity. In 1999, jointly with other top physicists (A.O Mustapha, University of Nairobi) and and I.V Rathore (Kenyatta University), Prof Patel undertook another study, but this time round, it covered many parts of the country. The three would later urge more research on the link between the environment and diseases at Mrima, after results showed that thorium was the main source of high environmental radiation.

When nothing happened, Prof Patel wrote to the Radiation Protection Board of Kenya, warning them that the hill was highly radioactive. “I did what I could. I wrote to the relevant authorities,” Prof Patel told this writer.

“I gave the classified report to the Ministry of Health, a copy to the Radiation Board. They accepted receipt of the report.  They said they were going to declare Mrima out of bounds to the public.” Not much happened thereafter. “There we have a problem,” he told this writer.

The Radiation Board says “anybody can say anything”, according to a top official. “When people go around saying this and that, they should give comparative analysis. What is the situation in India?”

Sometime in February, top state officials met with geologists from Coast Province where the issue of radioactivity in the region was discussed. “The Permanent Secretary (Environment) said there had been complaints from the ground, and that we need to do a thorough study. He said we should cooperate with institutions that have the capacity to carry out such study,” says a government geologist, Coast Province.

The failure to protect the public against elevated radiation flies in the face of the country’s law, Radiation Protection Act Chapter 244 which seeks to shield the public from the harm of radiation. This piece of legislation is meant to be enforced by the Ministry of Public Health.

Yet it’s not just Mrima. Jombo, a hill neighbouring Mrima is also with elevated radiation. In Nyanza Province, Gwasi and Homa Hills are now being studied by Shem Achola, a PhD student at the University of Nairobi. Initial studies show that these areas have high radiation dose. Prof Patel and other scientists want the whole country studied to isolate areas with high natural radiation.


Hermine Reece Adanwenon

Africa Media 21, 9 March 2011

Illegal medical practices, is the government complicit?

The past scourge of money laundering offices has today been replaced by that of illegal medical practices. The capital city of Cotonou is overflowing with them as they have mushroomed right under the government’s nose. In every corner of every street, these cabinets offer people medical care at competitive prices. However, many people have lost their lives there. Be it the caregiver is qualified or not, their white jacket remains a visa to the paradise of healing. Victims can be counted by the dozens, even thousands, yet health authorities remain powerless against a system that is corrupting the industry. Deliberate silence? A lax attitude? Complicity? Or maybe, quite simply, a combination of all three factors. 

Thursday 18 August 2010. The clock strikes 9 o’clock in the morning. Dressed in his white coat, Mr Eustache Savi bustles about. On the old bench positioned at the entrance to his medical practice, there are already 7 people waiting: 2 men, 4 women and a child. In his fifties, Eustache Savi goes out and invites the first comer to come inside for their consultation. The medical office is situated in a dilapidated building in the Casse-Auto neighbourhood not far from the Red Star Square in Cotonou and only has one room. A grimy curtain separates the office from the consultation room that also serves as the treatment room. Occupying the benches, each patient awaits their turn. Each and every one of them will leave with one or more teeth having been pulled out. One of the patients tells us: “he took out two of my teeth for FCFA 6000”.

Another who was accompanying her husband tells us that she has also previously come to have a tooth removed for FCFA 3000. The young girl who is already whimpering has three teeth pulled out. In the treatment room, there is a rusty sink that is already out of use. For the occasion, our dentist is equipped with bloodied instruments with which he examines his patients. There are no protective measures or steps taken to disinfect the instruments to ensure a minimum of hygiene. The surgical operation at the infamous dentist only lasts approximately 10 minutes, 10 minutes during which no anaesthetic is used. Thus, in less than an hour, the dentist will have pulled several teeth from four patients, one of which is a 5-year old little girl. A staggering spectacle.

Pretending to be a patient, I myself almost had a tooth pulled out in the conditions described above. “The most beautiful woman in the world can only give that which she already has”, commented doctor E.S. when I refused to undergo his operation. “I will come back soon because today I am in too much pain”, I claimed. Fearing that I would ask him to refund me the three thousand CFA francs (3000) representing the consultation and operation fee, he flew off into a blue rage. Of the patients present that day, one fell into a coma two days later. As soon as I heard, I went to Saint-Luc Hospital where the patient had just been admitted. When questioned, Doctor Elire Nougbodoto, who had admitted the patient, confirmed to us that she had undergone an operation that could have cost her her life. “But thank God, we were able to save her. She is in intensive care and her parents will be able to see her in a few hours’ time”, he said. According to Doctor Casimir Echikou, president of the Benin Order of Dentists, this man who passes himself off as a dentist was nothing other than a simple assistant in a dental surgery.  “We have called him to order several times now, but with no effect. It makes one believe that he must have somebody covering for him at the Department of Health”, he explained. Another lady, “Mother Samuel”, told us her story. “I am one of the many victims of this informal dentist. In fact, I went to consult him for treatment when I was suffering from toothache. But against all expectations, he decided to pull out the painful tooth right then and there”, she says. Following this operation, “Mother Samuel” assures us that she almost died because a few hours after the operation, her head was swollen and she was in unbearable pain. “It was thanks to indigenous treatment that I was able to recover”.

Silence or complicity from the authorities?

This had to be seen to be believed. As soon as our investigation was finished, we contacted Mr Eustache Savi in order to find out the reasons that drive him to operate as a dentist. “Who are you? I will make life difficult for you if you continue. My surgery is not illegal and I have all my papers in order”, he declared over the telephone. A few hours after that phone call came another one, and then yet another one. “Are you the journalist who wants to publish an investigation on my brother?  It is better that you don’t if you value your job and your life. I am also going to call your superiors immediately”, I was told by the voice of a man on the other side of the line.

This anonymous phone sounded the death knell for my investigation. On the very evening that I was preparing to publish my article, I was invited to postpone its publication. Let it not be said that might is always right. Eustache Ravi has long arms that squeezed with all their power in order to prevent this travesty from ever seeing the light of day. Like him, there are many who pass themselves off as health agents and with the complicity of senior governmental officials. From our investigations, it was revealed that Mr Eustache Savi is the brother of a director within the Department of Health. It was thanks to the latter that he had obtained his papers in order to open his surgery. And thus, without being trained as a dentist, he is operating openly and with everybody’s knowledge.

As with “Savi’s Surgery”, there are many such so-called “dentists” who operate illegally. And yet, this anarchist proliferation of health centres and surgeries has heavy consequences on the lives of people, even leading to the loss of human life. There is a vast multitude of cases and the victims can be counted in the thousands. The head of the baby is ripped off, leaving the body in the mother’s stomach. A woman is left to fall from the birthing table while giving birth. A glucose serum is administered to a diabetic patient. Are we still maintaining that these are medical errors? No, these are heinous actions by vile individuals in the quest for easy gains who, in order to reach their goals, pass themselves off as something that they are not. They have prostituted the noble profession of health agents.

But what do our authorities have to say about this problem? Nothing. “For some, it is a problem that will never be resolved in our country; for others it is that the authorities are afraid to commit to a combat that has already been lost in advance. “Who do you want them to blame? These authorities also have medical practices. Who will they go to and demand that they be shut down? They don’t dare do anything”, declares Ephrem, the brother of a victim hospitalised at Saint-Luc Hospital.

Even the Minister of Health can receive an injunction from the palace of the presidency prohibiting him from closing such or such a medical practice or medical centre. “A medical practice had been opened illegally and I ordered it shut down but a few days later, the so-called health agent in charge re-opened his doors”, confided a former Minister of Health who asked to remain anonymous. According to her, it would be difficult to resolve this problem while the question of the recruitment of the new trainees and the resetting of the conditions of opening medical practices have not been resolved. “They are silent because they do not have any solutions. I remember that many medical practices were closed down but the authorities were quick to abandon the fight because, rest assured, the owners of these practices are usually the major university hospitals. As they are often very busy, they recruit other people who are sometimes ill qualified to run these practices”, confides another former Minister of Health whose name is being withheld.

More than simple complicity, it’s a partnership between unlawfulness and irresponsibility that easily justifies the silence that is being observed in the face of this worrying phenomenon. When will this uncontrolled commodification of health in Benin end? Currently, Mr Eustache Savi, like many others, continues to take the lives of his clients. Some, as we like to say in Africa, will claim that it is a matter of witchcraft, and others will invoke God who has given and who has taken. To each one his own.

The facts are clear

A study carried out in Benin in 2005 revealed that 13 cases were identified in the Cotonou trial court as having links to infractions that were more or less due to medical and paramedical faults. Of the 13 cases listed, a health agent was charged not for having carried out an abortion but for having administered an anti-tetanus serum to a patient. In another ruling, a miller was accused of passing himself off as a surgeon. He mistook a hernia for an abscess and cut it. As a consequence, the small intestine of the victim came out of its cavity and this resulted in death. At the Porto-Novo court, 3 cases were listed. The first related to the use of forged, falsified documents for the illegal and clandestine practice of medicine. However, numerous legal texts exist to regulate the opening of health centres or health practices. What is done with these legal instruments? When will these practices that take the lives of the valiant boys and girls of this nation end?

A 4-year old handicapped for life

 

Jocelyn, 4 years old, will be handicapped for the rest of his life. His right foot was amputated because it had a “scratch”, a wound that was not healing very well. The doctor in question, an administrative assistant, chose to cut this child’s foot rather than administer adequate medical care.

From now on, he will only be able to walk with a crutch and he will no longer be able to play soccer at school with his friends. This is the sad fate of Jocelyn, a young Beninese boy. Having had his foot amputated in deplorable and disastrous circumstances, this young boy has lost a part of himself. “My son was born with all his limbs but now he is now handicapped. This so-called doctor is going to pay very heavily for this. I will not rest until I have settled the score with him”. These are the words of Kodjo, the victim’s uncle, who is very saddened by the news. He had just learned of the sad news on the morning of 22 August. His nephew, who had been dragging his foot around with an infected scratch for weeks, had been receiving medical attention in a neighbourhood medical practice.

From our investigations, it has emerged that it was a medical-surgical centre that was opened in Adjarra, in the department of Ouémé, by an administrative agent. This was done under the guise of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that is managed by a medical student. The said medical-surgical centre specialised in surgical operations and caesarean section deliveries. The last operation carried out in this now derelict centre was the amputation of the foot of a 4-year old child, who had been treated in the Departmental Hospital Centre of Ouémé-Plateau and whose parents had been referred to this centre. The said centre is made up of a room (which can be described as a roofless operating block) that leads directly to the court way of the Clinic. There is an old operating table. The so-called operating block has no operating light, ventilator or steriliser, let alone running water. It surpasses all understanding that this structure was run by health professionals, both active and retired. The instigator, an administrative agent who was questioned, quickly revealed the names of the health agents who work there.

The Minister of Health, Professor Dorothée Kindé Gazard, gives an ultimatum to all managers of illegal medical practices and centres in Benin.

Informed of the amputation of the foot of a 4-year old child, the Minister of Health has not remained indifferent. Through a press conference, she has sounded the alarm and invited other illegal practices to conform to the existing legislation. Referring to the facts, Dorothée Kindé Gazard affirmed that the regulatory texts governing the health sector have been violated. In this regard, numerous actions have been undertaken to discourage these practices. Thus, the penal system has allowed the arrest of the instigators and those presumed to be accomplices were brought before the State Prosecutor on 11 September. Finally, the Minister of Health invited all promoters of illegal health centres established throughout the entire country to regularise, in the shortest time possible, their administrative situation vis-à-vis the relevant regulations.


Selay Marius Kouassi

Abidjan Live News, 9 May 2011

GOLD: A CURSED MINERAL

It is estimated that there are today millions of people the world over who wear gold jewellery valued at thousands of dollars. But what is the price paid by the people who live on the areas where this gold is mined and who produce it? What is the price paid by local residents in Bonikro, in the south-west of Côte d’Ivoire, where the recent discovery of gold deposits has attracted mining companies?

The town of Bonikro lies in the administrative region of Hiré. Since their arrival in 2007 for the “Bonikro gold mining project”, powerful Australian mining companies have opened Pandora’s Box and local populations now consider gold to be “a cursed mineral”!

The destruction of cacao and coffee plantations (the only source of income for locals); floods; endless land disputes; the poisoning of natural watercourses due to mining waste and the cyanide used to extract gold; serious epidemic diseases…everything has happened in quick succession, with the complicity of the authorities who are deaf to the demands of local residents.

In the local press, the “Bonikro case” was headline news only for a few days and after that, nothing. A total information blackout. While contemplating the idea of going to the mining site in Bonikro with the view of establishing the reality on the ground, I wondered about the reasons for the press’s sudden disinterest in the “Bonikro case”. Was it too risky to an issue to speak about or had the problems that were raised been resolved?

In the public transport vehicle that took me to the town of Hiré, approximately 7 kilometres from the main gold mine in Bonikro, the conversation of two ladies in particular drew my attention. One of them was accusing the mine and the dust released by the carved rock of being the cause of her rash. The asphalt road linking the town of Divo to Hiré, the last stop before the Bonikro site, is in a very advanced state of dilapidation. The landscape with its many hills flies speedily past my eyes.

We soon arrive at Hiré. My guide is waiting for me. He is Thomas (not his real name), a Bonikro mineworker who is on leave. We exchange warm greetings and the usual courtesies. Thomas gets straight to the point. “Here, whoever publicly shows his opposition to the mining project is in danger!” says Thomas. “He risks being accused of violence and terrorism and he also risks being arrested”, he explains.

Thomas recalls a 2009 uprising by local residents who were exasperated by seeing their land occupied by Newcrest, the mining company that runs the Bonikro site. And on 8 April of the same year, healthy young men from the local population led an operation of active sabotage against the mining installations as they were tired of trying to be heard through peaceful means. They were pummelled and arrested by law enforcement agents. The press barely gave any attention to the story and mining works continue, along with their effects of human and ecological destruction.

Inflation and the forsaking of farming

At the bus station, I have a brief, friendly chat with a shopkeeper who informs me that the price of staple foods is on the rise. Since the discovery of gold in 2006 and the start of mining operations in 2009, Hiré has not been the same town! Not just anybody can afford to live there anymore.

Gold panning has significantly transformed the economic habits of the people of Hiré. In the farming sector, farmers and market gardeners have abandoned their fields for traditional gold panning sites and the Bonikro mine. The forsaking of farming activities, mainly the cultivation of food, has led to a decrease in production and, inevitably, unprecedented inflation levels.

At the Hiré market, a trader tells me the prices of the staple products that she sells. “A kilogram of local rice is FCFA 350. A bunch of bananas costs FCFA 1000 and a 100kg bag of dried maize is FCFA 15 000”. Just a year ago, a kilogram of local rice was FCFA 175, a bunch of bananas between FCFA 350 and FCFA 500, and a bag of dried maize cost between FCFA 4000 and FCFA 4500. “These prices won’t drop but will continue to climb, it has been like that since the mine was opened!” remarks Thomas.

I leave my luggage at “Sandrofia” hotel where a “Full” sign is on display. Luckily, Thomas had booked my room a bit earlier. In only a few months, the price of a room has increased from FCFA 7000 to FCFA 20 000, and the hotel is never short of customers.

Land occupation and destruction of residents’ plantations

The 7km laterite road that links the town of Hiré to the Bonikro mine is bumpy and uneven. It leads to immense open-air structures containing a lot of mining equipment such as heavy duty loaders, electric shovels, drills and large trucks. There are immense workshops and imposing warehouses with a system of loading trains. Trucks are to-ing and fro-ing between the mine and the crusher to shed their load.

Bonikro mine covers a surface area of 37,5km² and has a gold production capacity of 4 tons per year. It was first tentatively run by Equigold CI, a company that merged on 11 July 2008 with the Australian company LGL to form LGL Equigold. On 3 May 2007, this new joint-venture signed an Operating Agreement with the state of Côte d’Ivoire only to then give its operating licence to Newscrest, another Australian company and a heavyweight in the global mining industry.

The implementation of the Bonikro gold project has had and continues to have a considerable impact on farming in what is essentially a rural area where economic activities are based on farming and where 97.4% of villagers are farmers. The debate around the effect that the treatment of gold by cyanide chemical extraction has had on the soil and on the water continues to pit local residents, expatriate miners and local authorities against each other.

Article 22 of law N°96-766 of 3 October 1669 on the Environmental Code grants local authorities the right to refuse all construction permits if the buildings are of a nature that will harm the surrounding environment. It is in violation of this law that the government granted LGL Equigold its mining license.

The environmental impact study carried out ahead of the Bonikro gold project and published in December 2007 by the Francophone Institute for Energy and the Environment (l’Institut de l’Energie et de l’Environnement de la Francophonie, IEFF) particularly emphasises the potential damage that could be caused by cyanide chemical extraction. It is described as “a highly toxic chemical product” and suggests that “appropriate measures be taken to regulate it usage so that it does not negatively affect and put the lives of local residents in danger”.

Moreover, the study reveals that the probability of the accidental disposal of mining waste is to be feared in the event of a pierced or burst pipe, a pump leak, or even the overflowing of a percolation vat. “Mining waste containing cyanide could have a negative impact on the aquatic ecosystem downstream from the project area”.

Why then did the government choose to ignore the relevant information contained in this study and rather hasten to authorise gold mining at Bonikro? The question begs the answer. Substantial financial stakes must have motivated the authorities to deliver this precious document that allowed the extraction of gold to proceed.

According to law N°95-553 of 17 July 1995 on the Mining Code, the Ivoirian State holds the right to the project and is thus entitled to 10% of dividends from the said project. The relatively high tax rate must also be considered. The State will receive no less than FCFA 1.5 billion in taxes and this over a period of at least 7 years. That is undoubtedly a windfall that is not to be missed but what does this sum represent for the wellbeing of local residents? Not much!

An incongruous development and relocation plan

The IEFF study laments the fact that the Ministry for the Environment granted the Environmental Approval Decree without first analysing the proposed displacement and relocation plan for local residents.

It was against their wishes that local residents of Bonikro, Bandamankro and Petit Bassam were removed from the area that is now a gold extraction site, towards a new area situated four kilometres from there. Narrow houses that are nevertheless described as “modern”, with ochre-red walls and running water, were built there to house them. Very few residents drink this water that they presume to be contaminated by the cyanide that is used nearby to extract gold.

There is a very strong chance that the groundwater where this water is drawn from is contaminated by the cyanide that penetrates into the soil”, explains Fabrice Django, a resident of the new village. “Look at the colour of this water and the dirt that has settled at the bottom, but it comes from the tap!” He points to a container which he had filled with tap water hardly 30 minutes earlier. “On top of that, it doesn’t even taste good”, he adds.

At Hiré clinic, a nurse who has asked to remain anonymous remains cautious. “There has been a sudden spate of illnesses that have never been seen here before, but given the lack of thorough scientific studies, we cannot confirm that this is due to the fact that the water that local residents use is contaminated with the cyanide used to extract gold […]”. 

Compensatory measures: all smoke and mirrors

We asked Venance Kouadio, a farmer, whether he was satisfied with the financial compensation that he received when his cacao plantation was destroyed. Lying on his hammock and gazing off into the distance, he simply replies: “”It’s all been a big rip off!”

Venance says that the mining of the quarry still haunts him, as does the dynamite that is used to break up the rocks and that has ended up by causing cracks in the new houses that were built for relocated residents.

I was compensated, and well within my expectations, but did I have the option to refuse? Was there another way out? No! I accepted FCFA 6 million in spite of myself. What are six million francs worth compared to a plantation? A plantation lasts a lifetime and you can bequeath it to your children”, he laments.

Michel Mian, PDG of LGL Equigold, has told the press that the company he directs is committed to the development of sustainable projects for the benefit of the people of Bonikro and Hiré and that each year he spends FCFA forty million on each village that was removed from its original site or whose residents have suffered the negative impacts of gold mining.

This rhetoric is in stark contrast to the reality on the ground: it is difficult to verify this alleged investment of forty million francs: the promised modern high school has yet to be built and the promised hospital equipped with technical support will never see the light of day.

Contrary to initial promises, no high school has been built; instead, one lone building was erected on the grounds of Hiré’s high school. The staff at the main hospital in Hiré can only rejoice about having had the walls of their workplace repainted along with the replenishing of some medical stock.

As for employment, the youth are still waiting. In the beginning, 225 jobs were promised as reserved for young people from Bonikro. In the end, just less than 80 of them were recruited as mine workers. The vast majority of them have been left to loiter in the wait for unlikely employment at the mine.

Komenan Gustave, one of Hiré’s traditional leaders, expresses his displeasure. “The mining company is hiring from elsewhere while local people who sold them their lands at a reduced price are getting poorer and poorer… I curse the day that gold was discovered here! And I curse the gold itself!”

Koffi N’Dri is president of the National Committee for Transparency in the Extractive Industry, the organ charged with ensuring that the interests of riverside residents are respected. Ironically, he claims to be satisfied by the commitments of the mining company that runs Bonikro mine. Which commitments is he referring to? Another question that begs the answer.

A lethal situation

The opening of a mine that was supposed to contribute to resolving the problem of increasing poverty in the region has instead turned into a solution that is as lethal as the malady that it is meant to be healing. Since then, violent land conflicts have started to erupt between natives and non-natives but these are played down. The rate of young children dropping out of school is on the rise; young children of school-going age prefer traditional gold extraction sites rather than going to school. Over and beyond mere discontent, poverty and the disaster created in the farming sector by the Bonikro gold mine, the most frightening prospect is of a time-delayed ecological bomb!

 

Lazaro Mabunda

O Pais, 18 August 2010

Semlex did business without   commercial  registration in Mozambique

The Belgian company Semlex began producing biometric documents in Mozambique   without  the   registration needed to operate in the country: there was no deed or provisional registration, according to certified data   in our possession.

The  business  that the government has concluded with Semlex  for the production of all biometric identification documents – ID cards, passports, visas, DIRE, among others -has  been awarded  directly to that company without an open tender for this purpose, ignoring the position  of Attorney General of the Republic, who said that these  services  should not be awarded to a foreign company.

Under the agreement, signed on 8 August last year, Semlex would begin  to produce the first identity cards, even if it had no legal existence in Mozambique. Data in our possession show that this company obtained provisional registration on 30 June this year, a day after it signed the deed, at the First Notary Office of Maputo – on 29 June.   After 10 days, it was published in the Government Gazette, Series III, Number 27, 9 July 2010. That means that Semlex exists legally in Mozambique from 30 June this year, from the time it  received such provisional registration. After   11 months   it started to issue the first documents in a deal closed in early 2009, as per a contract signed by Manuel Chang, the Minister of Finance, representing the Government of Mozambique, and Albert Karaziwan, representing the Semlex Europe, SA. Company

At the time of signing the contract, in accordance with clause 39, b) of the contract in our possession, it was established that the Semlex should inform the Ministry of Finance within 60 days after signing the concession contract regarding their legal domicile in Mozambique.

BUSINESS DONE ILLEGALLY

According to legal experts contacted by our daily, for a company to perform commercial acts, it needs, at  first, to register at the registry of commerce,  the purpose of which is to state the  quality of merchant and  legal persons, which is mandatory for the constitution of societies.

The first step to obtaining a business registration is a provisional registration. According to the Legal Framework for the Establishment of Companies in Mozambique, III Edition of 29 June, 2009, a document produced by Sal & Boilers and ACIS, “the provisional registration is only temporary.  That  provision exists   because of a time problem. Legally, the company is required to apply for registration within 90 business days after the public deed of incorporation.  For full registration, outside Maputo, the company shall provide, among other documents, a copy of its statutes published in the Business Registry. Since the publication usually takes more than 90 days, the company is legally obliged to apply for a provisional registration, until the publication has been made in the Business Registry. The proof of provisional registration, together with proof of payment of the publication in the Business Registry allows the continuation of the registration process.”

The directory for business on the Mozambique Government portal  states that “The lack of registration of companies means that they cannot claim the status of trader in relation to  third parties. (Such companies) may be called to answer for the obligations and liabilities incurred in that capacity”. Now Semlex made a deal valued at 207 million dollars annually, without having even a provisional registration, or deed, much less the commercial registration.

The directory of the Government also prescribes that “failure to enrol leads to a fine, subject to the occurrence of criminal prosecution. The fine amount will be variable, taking into account the company’s capital.” (It continues) : “Foreign companies wishing to establish a branch or any kind of social representation in Mozambique can only enrol if they have a certificate issued by the competent consular officer from Mozambique, which is proof of established and legal operations, in addition to documents required as ‘national citizen”.

The document of Sal & Caldeira and ACIS also states that the process of constitution of business is complete by issuing a certificate of commercial registration, which can take about a month. The society is then formed and finally registered for commercial purposes.

“However, it cannot start operating as a business, until it gets  a license issued by the relevant ministry for the sector in which it will operate.”

Time limits

• Clearance Certificate: 2 to 3 days;

• Obtaining the certificate of the deed: 4 to 5 days;

• Publication in the Official Gazette: 90 days;

•  Full  Registration (Final) : 7 days.

Looking at these time limits,  Semlex could only have obtained full registration from 10 July this year.

Who are the owners of  Semlex  Mozambique, Lda?

According to the Business Registry,  (the form of) which is  in our possession,  Semlex is a private company with limited liability, established by Ralph Razouk  Hajjar,  age 30, and Albert Karazawan. It has a capital of 20 000 Meticais, divided into two equal shares amounting  of  MT 10 000  each, representing 50% of the capital, between  Ralph and Albert Karazawan.  Razouk Hajjar is the first designated administrator.  Semlex  is to provide the computer equipment  for biometric systems,  such as passports, visas, identity cards, residence permits, among others, in addition to providing office supplies and the printing of  confidential documents.

The steps for setting up a commercial company

PROCEDURES AND DOCUMENTATION

Clearance Certificate:

This is a document that must be obtained from the Registrar, upon request, stating that there is no commercial company / business with the same name or a name that resembles the company that you want to register.

• Opening a Bank account:

A bank account must be opened at an existing financial institution on behalf of the future company. Some banks do not allow the account to be moved before the presentation of the deed (construction company).

• Statutes of the Society:

The draft articles of company must be presented, referring to the following: type of commercial company, the minimum number of shareholders / partners, capital, purpose, action / quotas and corporate bodies.

• Public deed:

Documents required:

1. Clearance Certificate;

2. Copies of identification documents of the members (passport or identification document for foreigners – DIRE);

3. Proof of deposit of initial capital (bank deposit slip from the account opened on behalf of future business);

4. Statutes.

• Deed:

1. Documents must be submitted to the Notary to assess the value of writing (usually 10% of capital);

2. The date for the execution of the deed must be marked and the payment made.

• Provisional registration:

Once the deed is in hold and the certificate issued,  the provisional registration of the company should be  done in the Commercial Registry (with the names of the managers or administrators).

• Publication of Statutes in Business Registry (National Press)

With the extract of the certificate of the deed, the statutes of the commercial company are now published.

• Final Registration: 

The final registration of the commercial society is done after the publication of company statutes in the Government Gazette. This is done at the Registry Office upon submission of an application form and presentation of a copy of the Business Registration with the published statutes.

Pacheco does not enlighten

Lázaro Mabunda

The Minister of home affairs,  Jose Pacheco, said yesterday that the deal with Semlex ran within the law, but he assumed that this company has been operating since October 2009. At that time, according to the Official Gazette Series III, Number 27, dated July 9,  Semlex had no legal existence in the country.

When he was questioned yesterday afternoon by the newspaper  “O Pais”, outside the meeting of the Cabinet, to clarify  in what  circumstances  the government awarded the business of biometric documents  to the Belgian company Semlex, the  minister  of home affairs said that he ‘swore that everything was transparent’ but  he could not present any evidence to  support this.  He could not disprove the legal documents in the possession of our newspaper.

AN ADDRESS …THAT DOES NOT EXIST

Moreover, the thirty-ninth clause requires Semlex to indicate, within 60 days after signing the contract, its address  in Mozambique, We have no confirmation that this has happened. However, the address on the statutes says: ‘Semlex office, avenida Emília Daússe,  n.o 687, Maputo’, but there is another company called Elgas operating there, which has nothing to do with Semlex. Our reporting team spoke to some officials from  Elgas, who confirmed that the company has occupied the office “for several years.” Therefore, it is understood, that they came before there was even talk of Semlex coming to Mozambique, or providing services in Mozambique.

We were told that several people went looking for Semlex at that address, but they repeat the same story: Elgas had nothing to do with Semlex and  they do not even  know  why this company was using that address.  The strange thing is that Semlex was recorded in a recent Government Gazette  – 9 July, 2010 – so, strictly for one month and 16 days. The statement was made on 29 June – nearly two months ago. At that time, the owners knew that their company was not located at that address. Why, then, did  they maintain it?

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

The home affairs minister insisted that the business was legal. He refused to comment on the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) on the subject. In February 2009, the Technical Board from the PGR produced an opinion opposing the concession for the production of civil identification documents (to a foreign company), because it is understood that this is the sole responsibility of the State, since it relates to a  issues of sovereignty . The Mozambican government has ignored this advice from PGR. Now, Pacheco says that “the Government is satisfied with the business.”

Inexplicably, Pacheco said that the contract between the Government and Semlex is  for technical assistance. We went to revisit the  contract between the government and Semlex and see what it says on the subject of this commitment: It provides indeed a technical assistance component, but, it goes far beyond this. The second clause says: “This contract is subject to the granting, on an exclusive basis by the concessionaire to the concession, the right to supply, installation and servicing of systems and production of civil identification documents, travel, visa and immigration control movement (. ..).”

That means that, in addition to supply, install and assist the Government in terms of systems, Semlex is allowed to produce identification and other civil documents.

The  newspaper  “O Pais” asked Pacheco if he knew Semlex’s past, particularly in Guinea-Bissau and Chad. The minister skirted the question, reiterating that “the Government is satisfied, and what happens elsewhere does not concern us.”

When he was asked about the reasons for the exclusion of most reputed companies in the area, Pacheco replied as follows: “I do not know these giants and reputable companies that you are talking about. I just say that we are comfortable and the contract  signed  with Semlex complies with all legal procedures. The rest is just speculation and promotion of intrigue.”

But it is not an  intrigue to say that  Gemalto and Sagem companies are  more reputable than Semlex: the first is the global leader in digital security, it is listed on the exchange; covers more than one billion people around the world, has a turnover of close to 2 billion euros, 10,000 employees of 90 nationalities, based in 40 countries.

TOYOSI OGUNSEYE

PUBLIC SCHOOL TOILETS, PITS OF DEATHS AND DISAESES

Punch, JULY 3, 2011

The recent death of an eight-year-old pupil after he fell into a pit latrine in a government primary school reveals the unhygienic sanitary conditions that children in primary schools are exposed to. TOYOSI OGUNSEYE visited 10 of such schools in Lagos and reports that stinking latrines that are filled to the brim with faeces are the order of the day.

Nineteen days ago, Lawal Buhari fell into the open pit latrine of his primary school. By the time help came to him, the eight-year-old boy was dead. Immediately his corpse was brought out, the school closed and all the pupils were asked to go home. Buhari’s best friend, Ahmed, who usually left school every day with the late boy got home that day without his friend.

Buhari’s mother said Ahmed came home with only Buhari’s food flask and this made her suspicious.

She says, “When I saw my son’s food flask with Ahmed, I asked him why he came home without his friend. He told me that Buhari took permission from the class teacher that he wanted to use the toilet just before the closing hour, but did not come back. Ahmed assumed that Buhari had gone home, but since my son left his food flask and water bottle in the class, he decided to bring them home for him.”

Mrs. Buhari ran to Irepodun Primary School, Ketu, Lagos, as fast as her legs could carry her. When she got there, two teachers blocked the entrance and prevented her from going in. This aroused her suspicion and she started screaming that she wanted to see her son.

As this was going on, she overheard a group of teachers saying that a pupil fell into the latrine of the school and had just been brought out. Buhari’s mother ran towards the area of the school toilet and met the corpse of her first son lying on the floor.

She fainted.

The death of Buhari drew the ire of some young men in the neighbourhood who invaded the school to protest the child’s death. They pulled down the doors of the teachers’ toilet, which was locked and could not be accessed by the over 1,000 pupils of the primary school. The protesters were miffed that while the teachers enjoyed water closets, the pupils were made to use pit latrines that were wide enough to swallow average-sized pupils. Buhari perished in one of them.

The ill-fated boy’s mother says the teachers’ toilet was actually built for the pupils but the teachers converted it to their use. According to her, the teachers kept the new toilet which had six water closets under lock and key and this prevented her son from gaining access to a good toilet.

She says if the teachers were more considerate, her son would be alive.

“The teachers killed my son because of their wickedness. The local council built new toilets for the children in that school, but the teachers refused to allow them use it. To make matters worse, can you believe that it was the pupils that were washing the toilets? They also fetched water for use by the teachers in the toilets because water is not connected to the new toilets. If only the teachers allowed my son to use the toilet that the council built for the pupils, he wouldn’t have fallen into that pit.”

It was the day Buhari died that his mother discovered that her son and other pupils were using the pit toilets and not the water closets. He was brought out of the pit with faeces all over him.

The pit Buhari fell into was approximately six feet deep and was filled with faeces and urine when SUNDAY PUNCH went to the school. The primary school has three pit latrines that are filled to the brim with faeces. These latrines, which are located behind the classrooms, oozed nauseating odour which was enough to cause cholera or diarrhoea outbreak. Since the latrines are filled and the pupils who are as young as two-years-old cannot stoop astride them to ease themselves, they defecate in sheets of paper and nylon bags before throwing their wastes into the pits. That was what Buhari tried to do the day he died.

Another pupil who saw him said the deceased spread a sheet of paper on the floor beside the latrine and was defecating with the aim of throwing the waste into the pit. However, this was not to be, as the latrine caved in as Buhari was defecating and he plunged into it. The pupil then ran to inform his class teacher that he had seen another pupil fall inside the latrine.

Buhari’s mother says the teacher did not pay attention to the pupil who raised the alarm on time and alleged that that was not the first time a student was falling into the pit latrine. She says five years ago, she heard that another pupil died in the same manner but the school authorities covered it up, claimed that kidnappers abducted the child and that when his parents could not pay the ransom, he was killed.

The teachers in the school who pleaded anonymity because they are civil servants denied this allegation. They said it was the first time a pupil had ever fallen into the latrine. They also said that it was not true that the pupils were denied access to the water closets.

If Irepodun Primary School had some water closets that were allegedly coveted by the teachers, the same cannot be said of the other government primary schools that SUNDAY PUNCH went to. From the Mainland to the Island, the story was the same.

In Arowosegbe Nursery and Primary School, also in Ketu, the pit latrines are just opposite the classrooms, subjecting the pupils to the sickening odour of faeces as they receive lessons in their ramshackle classrooms.

At Alapere Primary School, Ketu, the over 1,000 pupils can’t use the pit latrines because they are flooded with water which leaks out of the latrines that are overflowing with excreta. Even the wooden doors that partition one latrine from another cannot stop the stench. It is challenging to take photographs of the pits without stepping into the putrid water that flows from them.

Another student, Bidemi (again, not real name) says he goes home to use the toilet during the break period. Since he lives on the same street as his school, it’s easier for him.

If the schools in Ketu have latrines, most of the primary schools in Fagba and Iju-Ishaga areas of the state have none.

Take the First African Church Mission School for example, which has two schools in its compound. There is no single toilet for the thousands of little children in the primary schools. All the pupils have a little space at the back of their classrooms where they defecate and urinate. This space is filled with excreta and the pupils have to be careful not to step on faeces as they bend to ease themselves. Even though the areas the children use are hidden from public view, the odour that oozes from there permeates the environment.

St. Kitzo’s Catholic Primary School is a stone’s throw from the First African Church Mission School. There, the teachers refused to show SUNDAY PUNCH the way to the toilet. One of them says, “We can’t take you there; you will have to go there yourselves. It is an open place that stinks.”

The place was just as the teachers described it. Just like the First African School, there is also a dump where the children defecate in the open. Located just behind one of the classes, the pupils were seen defecating, even as flies of all sizes and colours swarmed their excreta and the dust bin.

Beside St. Kitzo’s is the Fred Williams Memorial Primary School. Here, there is no toilet or facility for the pupils to use. A senior teacher, who pleads anonymity says, “Toilet? We have no toilets. The children wait till they get home before they can ease themselves. We resume school by 8am and close by 2pm. How the children cope, I don’t know.”

Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, Ojuelegeba, Lagos, has six water closets for about 178 students, but the toilets are very dirty. A senior teacher, who did not want her name in print, says it is difficult to keep the toilets clean because there is no water. She says, “Our pupils fetch water outside the school because we don’t have water on the premises. They wash the toilets themselves because we don’t have cleaners and their teachers can’t do that for them.”

The water closets in the school which was founded in 1950 are weak and can sink at any time. Flooded with water, the pupils have to step into the water before they can use the toilets.

The primary schools at the Ebute Metta area of Lagos don’t fare any better. At Odunfa Nursery and Primary School, the toilet was not accessible because it was flooded with dirty water. The pupils utilise the bushes that surround the school for their convenience.

Kadara Nursery and Primary School, Oyingbo, is just like Odunfa. With over 1,000 pupils for the few unkempt toilets available, the children have to resort to using the bush when they want to use the toilet.

Out of all the government primary schools SUNDAY PUNCH visited, only Shamsudeen Islamic Nursery and Primary School, Surulere appeared manageable. There, an elderly woman cleans the toilet for the pupils. Even though the seven water closets are inadequate for the about 1,500 children in the school, visible efforts are made to keep them clean.

The Lagos State Ministry of Education however absolves itself of any blame. The Public Relations Officer of the ministry, Mr. Tunji Bakare says, “I can’t comment about what is happening in primary schools. It is not under my purview and I don’t want to cross my boundary. Talk to the State Universal Basic Education Board, they are in charge of primary schools.”

The Chairman of SUBEB, Mrs. Gbolahan Dawodu did not respond to calls made to her phone. However, in response to the text messages that our correspondent sent to her, she said, “It is unfortunate and highly disturbing but we have started addressing them gradually.”

Commenting on the unhygenic state of the schools, a medical doctor, Dr. Juwon Afolabi, says exposing the pupils to faeces is lethal. Afolabi explains that one gram of faeces can contain more than 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs.

He says, ‘Untreated human waste, when exposed, is a huge risk. Open defecation and inadequate sanitation create a source from which communicable diseases can spread, placing society as a whole at risk.”

Afolabi further says diarrhoea, cholera, intestinal worms and trachoma are some of the diseases associated with open defecation and that there would continue to be cases of high mortality, stunted growth and low memory retention among pupils of these schools if good toilets were not provided for them.

Buttressing Afolabi’s point is a June 2011 release by the United Nations Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication which states that diarrhoea has become the second biggest killer of children under five in the world due to open defecation; and that the best cure is through better hygiene and sanitation.

The Programme Manager of Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Amanda Marlin, says while it is important for every pupil in schools to have access to safe and clean toilets, it brings particular benefits to women and girls.

She says, “Girls just don’t need toilet facilities just for defecation, they also need privacy and dignity when menstruating. Freed from the need to defecate in the open, they no longer have to suffer the indignity of physical and verbal abuse or humiliation when relieving themselves. Sexual harassment and rape are a risk for girls when they have to defecate in the open.”

On August 3, 2010, Nigeria was among the 122 countries that entered into a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly pledging to make water and sanitation human rights for their citizens.

That day, Nigeria’s representatives to the Assembly acknowledged that sanitation was an integral component of the realisation of all human rights and the full enjoyment of life. They also promised to halve by 2015, the proportion of people who had no access to sanitation.

Presently, 2.6 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation in the world, while 1.1 billion people still practise open defecation. Out of this number, 33 million are Nigerians says the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Judges’ verdict in FAIR Awards 2011

First we want to thank the judges of the FAIR Advisory Council who participated in the judging of this years’ Awards. They are: Gwen Ansell, the editor of our IJ Manuals; Mark Lee Hunter, co-author of the book we use as part of our Transnational Investigations guidelines, Story Based Enquiry; Tito Ndombi, of Africa News and the Ifasic journalism training institute in Kinshasa; Joe Hanlon, veteran IJ and academic who spent decades investigating Africa from his base in Mozambique, and Brant Houston, who is ex director of our sister organization, IRE in the US; Knight Chair of Investigative Reporting in Illinois, US, and co-founder of the Global IJ Network.

Brant is here.

Judges of competitions often start their verdict statements by saying that it was tough to make a choice and that so many participants were so good. We want to do precisely that tonight,  but we want to stress that this is certainly not for the purpose of being nice, or to make those who didn’t win, feel better.

We actually noticed a big increase in investigative quality in a majority of participating stories for the FAIR Awards, compared to previous years. There is a qualitative and quantitative increase out there, that, quite possibly, has something to do with the work of FAIR. We therefore want to add to our starting point –our being impressed with your investigative work-, that we want to congratulate FAIR, and FAIR staff, who run this Awards project, with some very tangible changes and improvements that seem to be taking place in the IJ profession in Africa.

The sheer number and quality of participating stories led to the fact that we have not only two winners, but also an additional shortlist of no less than ten participants. These ten could all easily have been winners, and we congratulate all twelve.

The winners and shortlist are not only good, but also diverse.  There is more social investigation, of the kind that points out a real issue affecting citizens, and changes people’s lives for the better. We want, for example, to highlight the work of Toyosi Ogunseye and Reece Adanwenon.  Reece’s story for Africa Media21, about illegal medical practices in Benin, tackles real death and suffering while the authorities either look away or tolerate it, because some of the criminals belong to the State in one way or another. Her work also caused the government to do something about it.

Toyosi Ogunseye’s piece about the terrible state of school toilets in Nigeria, published in Punch, is of a similar type, and just plain excellent.  It describes an astonishing issue, which is decidedly unsexy –being about toilets-, but Ogunseye makes us understand that these ‘pits of death’ kill children. Ogunseye investigated the ‘death traps’ very well, sourced the issue completely, and produced a totally convincing story.

Both Reece Adanwenon and Toyosi Ogunseye’s pieces show that investigation can help make people’s lives better by exposing their problems and forcing officials to react.

Another point for diversity in investigation was scored by participants who highlighted

science and environment as subjects for investigation. In this category, Benjamin Tetteh’s radio piece for Joy FM in Ghana, on a community affected by global warming; Ken Opala’s investigation, for the Nation in Kenya, of the effect of pollution on a rural village and Selay Kouassi’s similar piece for the online Abdijan Live News, on ruthless goldmining practices affecting workers and citizens in Ivory Coast, deserve a mention.

Then we had our intrepid business investigators. Khadija Sharife’s untangling of pharmaceutical medicines pricing, with devastating consequences for young children in need of anti-diarrhoea treatment, which she did for Al Jazeera Africa, received a special mention from a number of  judges, and so did Nicholas Ibekwe’s investigation of links between local VIP’s and a multinational pharmaceutical company, which he published in Nigerian Next newspaper, (of which we will still get to hear a bit later). Lazaro Mabunda revealed in Mozambiques’ ‘O Pais’ newspaper, through meticulous investigation how government officials sold out the national ID tender to a non-qualifying, shady company.

And, to underline how home-grown African investigative journalism can turn international cliche’s and stereotypes on its head, judges also many times praised the articles of Kassim Mohamed in the Kenyan Star and Muhyadin Ahmed Roble in Somali Report on the pirate economy in Somalia.

A very special mention went to the story “HOW DANGEROUS CRIMINALS GET OUT OF JAIL BEFORE TIME TO CAUSE MORE HAVOC ON the PUBLIC”, by DEOGRATIAS MMANA, that was published by The Nation in Malawi. This was called a terrific story by al judges.  It named names, unraveled a scam and detailed the consequences. It effectively used individual anecdotes and incidents — making it gripping for readers — to explore a much bigger systemic problem. In the eyes of the judges, this is a lesson in how to write an investigative story that is at the same time deeply ‘human’. It shows that stories don’t have to be about multimillion-$ issues to be worthwhile investigations.

Lastly, the judges also spent some time trying to come to grips with some stories that may be good stories, but were, in their eyes, not investigative. An example was Ramata Sore’s analysis on Western prejudices in last years’ reporting on the Soccer World Cup, held in Africa. This was a very good analysis, but not investigative.

There were also descriptive stories submitted. The judges pointed out that there is a difference between investigative journalism and describing a problem, where one looks at an issue simply in terms of what is happening. It is an important thing to do — the media as barometers of society need to reflect back to us as readers what our ‘temperature’ is. But it is not the same as IJ. IJ should go further, examining how a situation came about, what its implications are, and, if applicable, who are responsible.

There was still a proportion — albeit quite small — of sensational stories making claims without the backing of hard evidence that the reporter had uncovered, and relying instead on purely anecdotal evidence: “our investigations show that most….” That is not good IJ. Anecdotes have power, and bring life to stories, but they aren’t a substitute for facts and figures.  And one or two stories just slapped evidence and quotes down, without any attempt to create a story from which readers could discern, structure, argument and truth.

And now for the winners.

These are:
1. LAST MINUTE OIL DEALS THAT COST NIGERIA DEAR, BY PETER NKANGA AND IDRIS AKINBAJO

An excellent, thorough investigation into an important issue. In most countries this article would cost the minister her job, if not her freedom. Nigeria’s Next newspaper and website did a great job here.

Runner up:

2. Police officers cited in cases of missing young men, by Kipchumba Some

This story, published in Kenya’s Standard, reconstructs a crime committed by police. It’s beautifully written, gives evidence that can lead to arrests, and is backed up by official reports that make the story plausible and credible. Great crime reporting.

Then for the editors’ courage award.

It goes to Musikilu Mojeed, Enterprise Editor of Next in Nigeria, for publishing the story done by Peter Nkanga and Idris Akinbajo, even though he was threatened and persecuted, and even had to go into hiding for a while.

 


Forum for African Investigative Reporters

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