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Covid passports for cash scandal

  • unscrupulous health workers sell vaccine certificates to unvaccinated people,
  • NACOSEC ropes in police to investigate.

Limpho Sello

YET another huge scandal has rocked the government’s mass vaccination programme aimed at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

This amid revelations that some unscrupulous health professionals are selling vaccination certificates to people who have not been jabbed against the deadly disease.

The Lesotho Times’ investigations have shown that the certificates, also known as Covid-19 passports, are selling for anything from M150 to M400.

This is the second major scam after the jabs-for-cash scandal wherein rogue health practitioners from Motebang Hospital in Leribe allegedly corruptly administered vaccines to ineligible people, mainly foreign nationals, in exchange for monetary payments.

National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) deputy CEO, Thabo Ntoi, this week said they were aware of the latest scam which threatens the credibility of the country’s mass vaccination programme. He said they had roped in the police to probe the scandal.

Failure to bring the culprits to book would result in Lesotho’s Covid-19 passports being viewed as fraudulent and consequently rejected in other countries.

The government began the mass vaccination programme in March this year and NACOSEC records indicate that 478 182 people have been vaccinated to date.

The figure represents 23, 9 percent of the country’s 2, 1 million people. Having comfortably surpassed the World Health Organisation (WHO) target for countries to have vaccinated at least 10 percent of their populations by the end of September 2021, the buoyant NACOSEC is now gunning for another milestone. This time the secretariat has set its sights on jabbing 80 percent of the population by year-end. This is double the 40 percent benchmark set by the global health body.

But the accuracy of the vaccination statistics has now been brought into question following the discovery of the scam in which unscrupulous health professionals are issuing certificates to people who have not been jabbed. It is highly likely that some of the people who have been captured in the data base as vaccinated are actually criminals who have purchased the vaccine certificates without being jabbed.

According to Ministry of Health sources, the rogue officials are taking advantage of some people’s reluctance to get jabbed to offer them the certificates in exchange for cash payments.

The unscrupulous officials are taking advantage of the increased demand for certificates. The demand has been stirred by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s recent announcement that beginning 1 November 2021, Lesotho will introduce Covid-19 passports under which sporting events, social activities and some services will only be accessed by people who have been fully vaccinated.

It is also expected that many countries would soon start demanding the Covid-19 passports from visitors in much the same way that some east African countries will not allow entry to any visitors who fail to present valid yellow fever vaccination certificates at their ports of entry.

“Despite the increasing demand, there are still a lot of people who refuse to be jabbed for various reasons including the misinformation and religious beliefs that the vaccines are satanic,” said one ministry source.

“These are the same people who are now cheating the system by buying the certificates from unscrupulous health professionals. For monetary payments ranging from M150 to M400, such people can procure the certificates to give the impression that they have actually been vaccinated. It is a well-orchestrated scheme in which the health workers actually enter a person’s details into the data base and pass them off as vaccinated,” the source added.

Commenting on the scandal, Mr Ntoi said they were gravely worried about the sale of the Covid-19 vaccines. He said they had even discovered that some rogue health professionals were even looking for “clients” by advertising on some of the social media platforms.

“We are worried about this vaccine certificates scandal and we have called in the police to investigate,” Mr Ntoi said.

“We were alerted to the fact that some of these unscrupulous people have gone on social media to advertise their illegal operations. In their posts, they brazenly make it clear that people do not need to be jabbed. All they have to do is pay and they will be given the vaccine cards.

“It is more worrying that this scam is being pushed by health professionals, the very people who are entrusted with saving the lives of the public. We hope the police investigations will be fruitful and we can bring all the culprits to book.

“We also have to explore ways to secure the data base to make it less susceptible to manipulation by rogue elements who issue vaccine certificates to people who have not been vaccinated. We really must act because the corruption will endanger everyone’s lives,” Mr Ntoi added.

In a few days’ time, on 1 November, certain services will only be accessed upon production of Covid-19 passports.

But due to the scam, some people will be able to pass themselves off as having been fully vaccinated and they will mingle freely with those who have been jabbed.

This is a worrying prospect for Mr Ntoi.

“We need to bear in mind that Covid-19 is a deadly virus and some of these people who paid for their certificates without actually being jabbed will be freely moving around and mixing with those who have been vaccinated. These selfish people are endangering other people’s lives.

“Not only that, they are also endangering their own lives because if they get infected, they will not be able to fight off the worst symptoms of the disease without being vaccinated. They could fall critically ill or even die,” Mr Ntoi said.

Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, this week said they were aware of the allegations and they were investigating.

The scandal comes just two months after the Motebang Hospital scam wherein eight staffers were suspended for vaccinating ineligible people in exchange for cash.

The hospital is the main referral facility in the Leribe district. The Leribe district is only second to Maseru in terms of the high prevalence of Covid-19 in the country.

The hospital began the rollout of the second phase of the mass vaccination programme on 2 August 2021. At the time, the vaccines were being administered in phases only to essential workers as well as vulnerable sections of the population such as the elderly and those with two or more terminal illnesses. This was because there were limited supplies of the vaccines which made it impossible to jab everybody all at once.

However, the eight Motebang staffers took advantage of the desperation of some people who were ineligible to be vaccinated at the time as they did not fall into the category of essential workers or vulnerable people. These people were made to pay M400 each to be jabbed ahead of the eligible categories.

The staffers were subsequently suspended and reported to the police who have said they are still investigating. No one has so far appeared in court in connection with the Motebang scandal.


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