FIA to launch probe into export of face masks

Published March 14, 2020
Export was allowed on request of Chinese embassy, say officials. — Reuters/File
Export was allowed on request of Chinese embassy, say officials. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has decided to investigate a complaint against Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap), alleging that the permission for export of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) was given to obtain monetary benefits.

According to an FIA document available with Dawn, Additional Director General (North) Hassan Ali has directed the director of the Islamabad zone to take necessary action and submit a report within a fortnight.

The complaint, filed by a representative of the Pakistan Young Pharmacists Association (PYPA), Dr Furqan Ibrahim, alleges that 20 million face masks were “smuggled” out of Pakistan with the help of Drap and the SAPM.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has claimed that the masks were allowed to be exported on the request of the Chinese embassy in Pakistan.

Export was allowed on request of Chinese embassy, say officials

According to another document available with Dawn, Drap had banned export of respiratory (N95) masks, goggles, face shields, disposable gloves, disposable gowns, etc, on Jan 30. The document said the ban had been imposed due to emergence of coronavirus and if the articles were exported, strict action would be taken against the violators.

However, on Feb 8, five companies were allowed to export an unlimited number of personal protective equipment after written directives regarding relaxation of rules were issued.

The decision to allow export of the equipment triggered criticism in the health sector as the masks were in high demand across the country due to panic triggered by the coronavirus outbreak in China and its spread in some other countries and toxic gas leakage in Karachi’s Keamari area, which claimed a number of lives. Then the sale of masks at manifold higher rates started in the local market.

On the other hand, Drap started conducting raids against the sale of masks in the black market.

However, Drap Chief Executive Officer Dr Asim Rauf had claimed that the export had been allowed on the request of the Chinese embassy due to outbreak of COVID-19 in China. “We have allowed export of masks and other equipment due to our close relations with China. However, we have sufficient stock of the equipment,” he had said.

On Friday, when it was revealed that the FIA started looking into the issue, the Ministry of NHS issued a statement claiming that it had decided to sue the PYPA over the allegation.

A spokesperson for Drap alleged that the PYPA was used as a front by the individuals involved in the manufacturing and sale of spurious, unregistered and counterfeit medicines. Whenever Drap acted against such elements, frivolous complaints were lodged to deter the authority’s efforts to eradicate manufacturing and sale of spurious, smuggled, un-registered and counterfeit medicines, the spokesperson said in a statement.

“One such allegation has been levelled by them against SAPM and an additional director of Drap regarding face masks. It is a baseless allegation. Drap has decided to sue the PYPA for their repeated allegations to undermine efforts to curb menace of dubious medicine in the market. Many cases of violation of DRAP Act 2012 and Drugs Act 1976 have been registered against Noor Mohammad Mahar and Mohammad Usman who use the PYPA for their vested interests,” it stated.

“The office-bearers of this organisation were found involved in the heinous crime of manufacturing and sale of spurious, misbranded, unregistered and sub-standard drugs playing with the lives of patients and mocking the law. Drap initiated legal action against this mafia and several FIRs were registered. It is apprehended that in the emergent situation of coronavirus in the country, such elements have tried to twist the facts for getting their own benefits.

“Drap requests public and the media to remain vigilant of such elements for spreading misinformation in these cautious times. References have been sent to the authorities to apprehend such elements and their allies i.e. Haroon Yousaf, Noor Mohammad Mahar and Mohammad Usman and make them accountable for their offences which have endangered public health,” the statement concludes.

Asked why Drap had allowed export of face masks despite shortage in Pakistan, Media Coordinator of the Ministry of NHS Sajid Shah said that the export was allowed on the request of the Chinese embassy and people should not do politics over the relations between the two countries which had supported each other through thick and thin.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

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