Health ministry embroiled in multi-million dollar mask dispute

Otis Daniels_Finck
Windhoek • [email protected]



Namibia’s health ministry has accused a local company of breaching a multi-million dollar contract by supplying KN95 face masks instead of N95 face masks after the company dragged the ministry to court for failing to pay a N$7.5 million bill.

“It is submitted that the plaintiff, MVM Investments, on 22 July 2020 proceeded to deliver KN95 non-medical face masks and knowingly as well as fraudulently and deceptively presented its delivery note and invoice as a delivery of the correct assignment of N95 face masks,” court papers submitted by the health ministry states.

According to Popular Mechanics magazine, while the KN95s are closely related to N95s, N95s are the US standard, while KN95s are the Chinese standard for these close-fitting filtration devices. Both “are rated to filter out 95 per cent of very small particles”.

The health ministry argued in court papers that the emergency order for regular and small-sized N95’s in April 2020 was to protect health workers during the “height of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic outbreak”.

In addition to supplying the wrong masks, the ministry accuses MVM of delivering the masks 14 weeks later than the specified due date, instead of between 10 to 12 working days as contractually stipulated.

The ministry argues that the company violated the terms and conditions of its contract on these grounds, and the contract was cancelled subsequently.

MVM Investments, whose owner is listed as Martin Uiseb, launched the civil suit against the health ministry and its executive director in March this year, claiming the health ministry was in breach of contract for failing to pay a N$7.5 million invoice, after a delivery of 252 000 N95 medical masks.

MVM however also submitted a copy of a purchase order and claim form, signed in April 2020 by both parties, that indicates an order for 2 100 masks, for a price of N$7.5 million.

The purchase order shows MVM agreed to sell 500 regular N95 masks and 1 600 small N95 masks.

The regular masks were priced at N$3 583.15 per unit, totalling more than N$1.7 million.

The 1 600 N95 small masks were priced at N$3 583.15 per unit, totalling N$5.7 million.

Deviation

“The plaintiff (MVM) unilaterally deviated from the express specifications of the clinical items sought … to protect the frontline workers from being exposed to the deadly Covid-19 disease,” the health ministry’s court papers state.

“Instead, the plaintiff thought it appropriate to deliver an unspecified amount of KN95 non-medical masks, which they cannot use and for obvious reasons cannot be held accountable for paying for such.”

The “defective delivery” led to the cancellation of the contract, after the discovery a few days after delivery that the masks were not in line with the ordered type.

The health ministry’s court papers state that MVM was one of several companies contracted on an emergency basis to supply a variety of medical supplies for medical centres and frontline medical staff “who were deeply under pressure following the surging number of Covid infections nation-wide and at a serious risk themselves, while assisting and treating the influx of patients”.

Patrick Kauta of Dr Weder, Kauta & Hoveka Inc. is acting on behalf of MVM Investments, while government attorney Mkhululi Khupe is leading the legal defence for the ministry.

On Thursday, High court justice Esi Schimming-Chas postponed the case to 17 November for a pre-trial conference hearing.