Corona pandemic: Controversy in the Bundestag over expensive mask purchases

Corona pandemic: Controversy in the Bundestag over expensive mask purchases
Corona pandemic: Controversy in the Bundestag over expensive mask purchases

Crisis management during the pandemic was almost constantly under pressure – including when it came to organizing protective equipment. Harsh accusations are being voiced in the Bundestag.

The threat of billions in risks for the federal government as a result of mask purchases at the beginning of the Corona crisis has sparked a controversy in the Bundestag. The traffic light coalition called for further clarification in a current affairs session. “The use of billions in taxpayers’ money for dodgy contracts must be investigated,” said Green Party deputy parliamentary group leader Andreas Audretsch. He spoke of “one of the biggest tax waste scandals.” The then Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) justified the 2020 approach: “We had to make a decision in an emergency.” He made excessive accusations against the Greens in particular.

FDP budget politician Karsten Klein said that the aim now is to minimize risks from over-procurement, which was the responsibility of the CDU. “For us, it is about learning from this for the future.” That is why an inquiry commission is needed. SPD health expert Heike Baehrens said that it must be clarified whether, for example, lax rules have led to a gold rush mentality and encouraged enrichment. “That is self-evident.” However, the presumption of innocence applies until the investigations are completed.

The Federal Ministry of Health announced that around 100 lawsuits have been filed in simmering disputes over mask deliveries, with a total value in dispute of 2.3 billion euros. These relate to contracts at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when masks were in short supply but urgently needed. In order to get masks for the health care system more quickly, the ministry used a special procedure. Delivery contracts were concluded at fixed prices without further negotiations. In many cases, the department later refused to pay and claimed quality defects. Suppliers then filed lawsuits.

Spahn: “It was about human lives”

Speakers from the Union defended the minister at the time. Spahn spoke up at the end of the debate. He recalled the first corona wave in spring 2020. The largest exporter, China, suddenly stopped exporting. “People’s lives were at stake,” said Spahn. Procuring masks was expensive and chaotic, and that was the case for all countries. “Yes, with the knowledge I have today, I would make some decisions differently.” He could not recommend the procedure used at the time. He accused the Greens of being “excessive in their fury.” “They are doing the business of the corona deniers and are not even aware of it.”

Spahn said they had acted according to the motto: “It is better to have than to need.” The current Chancellor Olaf Scholz was also involved as Finance Minister and rightly made the money available, for which he was grateful. “Do you actually believe that the Health Minister can dispose of these sums alone?” asked Spahn. He had also explained the issue in detail several times in the Budget Committee.

Masks that were delivered in poor quality were not accepted at the time, explained Spahn. Suppliers complained about this, which is their right. “Should we have paid the two billion for masks of poor quality? That would have been detrimental to the taxpayer.” Spahn stressed that the pandemic should be dealt with. He hoped that this would not end in petty party politics and that it would be as broadly supported as the Corona policy.

Source: Stern

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