South Africa’s Covid-19 Vaccine Procurement Deals Subjected to Unprecedented Legal Scrutiny
Pretoria, [Current Date] – The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria witnessed a historic legal battle as the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) took center stage, demanding transparency and disclosure of the South African government’s secret Covid-19 vaccine procurement deals. This landmark case marks the first instance worldwide where civil society is pressuring a government to reveal the details of vaccine contracts negotiated during the height of the pandemic.
With over 38 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in South Africa by June 2023, the HJI insists that the government must disclose the procurement contracts made with vaccine manufacturers and suppliers, shedding light on the elusive details of these agreements. Despite the substantial funds allocated in the 2021 National Budget (R10 billion) for vaccine purchases, the actual cost of these contracts remains a well-guarded secret.
Utilizing the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) in 2021, the HJI sought access to the vaccine procurement contracts. However, the government refused to comply, citing confidentiality clauses that purportedly prevent disclosure and could prejudice both the health department and vaccine manufacturers in future negotiations.
Fatima Hassan, Head of the HJI, emphasizes the heightened need for transparency and accountability, particularly during a national disaster when the usual checks and balances might be compromised. She points to the global allegations of powerful pharmaceutical companies coercing governments into signing secret contracts during the pandemic and the local concerns regarding corruption diverting funds from Covid-19 relief and essential health services.
The HJI vehemently disagrees with the government’s non-disclosure stance, asserting that it violates the Constitutional principle mandating public administrations to be accountable and transparent. They argue that such secrecy infringes upon the public’s Constitutional right to information and undermines the duty to procure goods through a fair, equitable, and transparent process.
In addition to the lack of transparency, media reports have raised suspicions that the South African government may have overpaid for vaccines or accepted burdensome procurement terms due to the hidden nature of the contracts.
The HJI’s ultimate objective is to compel the South African government, through the National Department of Health, to publish all the unredacted vaccine contracts immediately, emphasizing the grave public importance of this matter. By doing so, they hope to set a powerful precedent that other countries can leverage to demand transparent contracting with pharmaceutical companies.
This case’s impact extends beyond South Africa, with potential ramifications for future pandemics and the broader issue of vaccine contract secrecy worldwide. The HJI believes that unveiling these agreements will pave the way for increased accountability, preventing pharmaceutical companies from prioritizing secrecy over global health needs.
As the legal battle continues to unfold, the eyes of the world are on South Africa, eagerly awaiting the outcome that could redefine the landscape of vaccine procurement and transparency in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.