A laboratory in Kabul owned by a presidential adviser has been awarded a contract by the Presidential Palace to conduct COVID-19 tests for passengers traveling to the UAE, according to documents seen by TOLOnews.
According to letters by the civil aviation authority, the Presidential Palace has said that COVID-19 tests should be done by the UAE-based G42-Biogenix in collaboration with the City Laboratory based in Kabul that is owned by Rezwanullah Ahmadzai, an adviser to President Ghani.
A letter by Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority dated Feb. 15 shows that the authority has said that the UAE government has suggested that COVID-19 tests for Dubai-bound passengers will be done by UAE-based G2-Biogenix in collaboration with the City Laboratory in Kabul.
But in another letter dated March 6, the aviation authority has said that the Presidential Palace has directed that the tests should be done by the UAE company in collaboration with City Laboratory.
Kam Air, Ariana Afghan Airlines, Emirates and Fly Dubai are conducting flights between Kabul and Dubai, according to officials.
“The UAE itself has no plan for this. These are personal businesses that have been done within our government,” said Sediqullah Safi, owner of a lab in Kabul.
The trend to have a COVID-19 test through the City Laboratory for traveling to UAE has been ongoing for the last four months. But an investor, Ahmad Fawad Sediq, says he has traveled to Dubai with COVID-19 test from other laboratories, but he has not been asked about the type of testing center by Emirati officials.
“It is not important to them where you have conducted the test because they do their own test,” Sediq said.
Airline companies, including UAE’s, said they have not received any letter from the UAE regarding the tests.
The two letters by the Afghan civil aviation authority have mentioned that the decision has been made after complaints from the United Arab Emirates about fake results of COVID-19 tests.
Former public health minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani in a tweet on August 21, 2020, wrote that he has sent a warning letter to the City Laboratory for approving COVID-19 test papers without conduct conducting an actual test.
Figures by Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority show that 1,000 passengers travel to Dubai in a week. The lab charges 4,500 Afs for each test; therefore, it will earn an estimated 4.5 million Afs a week.
Officials from the City Laboratory said that a testing center will be established at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in collaboration with G42-Biogenix so that all passengers are tested for COVID-19.
Officials from private-owned labs said that 80 percent of their visitors are those who travel to Dubai, warning that they will close their businesses if the process was monopolized to one testing facility.
According to investors, at least $200,000 has been invested in each PCR machine that they own.
“The Ministry of Public Health is the supporter of the health sector. I don’t know why the ministry is silent about this so far,” said Massoud Haidari, head of a laboratory in Kabul.
The Ministry of Public Health said that so far it has not awarded a license to the G42-Biomax and that it is not aware of limitations on 31 labs except the City Laboratory.
The ministry said that there is no issue with the activities of other labs.
“Whenever a laboratory faces an issue, the Ministry of Public Health is responsible to defend them,” said Mirwais Alizai, a spokesman for the ministry.
Masih Noori, head of Mr. Rezwan's office said Mr. Rezwan has had no role in awarding the contract.
“He (Rezwanullah Ahmadzai) is not involved at all. A delegation from the G42 came here and the City Laboratory was selected after a review. There hasn’t been monopoly or misuse of authority in this regard,” Noori said.
City Laboratory admitted that UAE-bound passengers and those who are traveling to other countries are provided the same service for COVID-19 testing. But the lab charges 4,500 Afs for each COVID-19 test, which is 1,000 Afs higher than other labs.
The maximum price for COVID-19 testing set by the Ministry of Public Health is 3,500 Afs while it is done for 1,700 by some labs.
“City Laboratory is a representative of G42. The price is set by the G42. They have set $59 for each test,” Noori added.
He said that at least $7 million has been invested in this project, including a $1 million warranty in the UAE.
“PCR is always PCR. Why should passengers pay 1,000 Afs more for the private sector,” said Massoud Bina, the deputy head of tourism companies.
City Laboratory declined to provide details on the contract. But based on a copy of the contract seen by TOLOnews, the lab shall pay $130,000 monthly for technical support and $130,000 a month for advising and management to the Emirati company.
The contract says that City Laboratory has agreed to pay 20 percent of the revenue it receives from providing COVID-19 tests.
The Presidential Palace and Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority declined to comment on the matter.