The decision by the KwaZulu-Natal health department to award a tender for the supply of a controversial circumcision device, the Tara KLamp, has been obscured by a cloud of mystery.
The department, the supplier, a rival supplier and the device’s inventor remain tight-lipped about how and why the health department procured the device.
The Mail & Guardian reported in June that the Malaysian-made KLamp had been flagged as unsafe by independent experts in 2004, that no further randomised control trials (RCTs) on the device had since been conducted and that the device was not approved by the World Health Organisation.
In addition, other circumcision devices are available on the market, such as the Shang Ring, which, unlike the KLamp, have received the all-clear in RCTs.
Despite these concerns department spokesperson Chris Maxon swatted away the M&G‘s questions about the tender award, saying: “We wish to state we find it disingenuous for you to ask for these [tender] documents without providing reasons. These are contract documents that are kept to protect their authenticity.” The M&G has established that the company which supplies Tara KLamps to the department is Intratrek Properties, which company registration documents list as an Mpumalanga-based real estate firm.
Provincial treasury public finance manager Ndoda Biyela said Intratrek Properties was the sole distributor of the device in South Africa and that the Malaysian manufacturer, Taramedic Corporation, was the sole manufacturer.
The product’s unique status made a competitive bidding process “impractical”, Biyela said.
According to treasury regulations, tenders can be awarded to lone suppliers, but motivation for doing so must be recorded and approved by the accounting officer.
“These are available if you request them,” Biyela said, but Maxon rejected the M&G‘s request.
Meanwhile, the M&G has established that Intratrek Properties may not be a lone supplier of the product.
Magda van der Walt, a director of Multilayer Trading 636, which trades as Carpe Diem, claims that her company holds exclusive distribution rights to the Tara KLamp in Southern Africa until 2013 and has a signed contract with the Malaysian manufacturer to prove it.
“Our attorneys are working on it,” she said, but would not elaborate.
Gurcharan Singh, the device’s inventor, denied that the Carpe Diem contract was legally binding. He said Intratrek Properties was “a better company, big business people with financial clout”, but he declined to answer further questions.
Intratrek director Ibrahim Yusuf said he held the distribution rights for the device in Africa and was “looking for a suitable supplier in South Africa”.
He would not clarify his business relationship with the KwaZulu-Natal department, saying: “Why disclose to the media what is a private issue?”
Male medical circumcision, shown to limit the spread of HIV, is a “priority programme” in KwaZulu-Natal.