Public Health Minister Dr George Norton wants Government to establish, as soon as possible, a team of competent persons to launch a full-fledged investigation into the country’s procurement system in light of a number malpractices and corruption allegations surrounding the process.
The minister submitted the proposal at the last Cabinet meeting and the matter is now with Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.
Dr Norton said it is now left to Cabinet to decide how it will proceed with his proposal and the terms of reference of the investigation.
He said recommendations were made to set up a presidential probe so that the person or body chosen to investigate would have subpoena powers to call on anyone to provide information on the matter.
“I took the paper to Cabinet informing them of the necessity to have that investigation and Cabinet decided that it should be of the nature where we can subpoena persons to respond to the Commission of Inquiry,” Dr Norton explained in an interview with the Guyana Times newspaper.
The minister said he is extremely concerned about the country’s procurement system and therefore wants the probe to commence as early as possible.
“I want to investigate the entire procurement system because we were given assurances that we have enough medication to last until the end of the year and beyond, but that is not the case and we want the information we have at hand to be more accurate and more precise. I might have been using information that is not necessarily too accurate and that must stop,” he explained.
Norton said measures should be put in place now to ensure the drug procurement process has adequate checks and balances in place to avoid incidents of corruption and malpractice.
“We can’t wait for it to blow up in a way we can’t handle,” he opined.
The move to launch the investigation was triggered by allegations of staffers of the Public Health Ministry passing inside information to bidders seeking lucrative drug procurement contracts.
Harmon, during a post-cabinet press briefing, had noted that government needed all facts in place before it made a decision in the matter.
“At this point in time, we still have allegations and we are basically asking the Minister of Public Health to provide sufficient information on which any future action by the State would take place,” he had stated.
Meanwhile Government intends to revamp the entire procurement system of the Public Health Ministry.
Already, the agency is advertising the vacancy for a Public Procurement Manager since the person currently overseeing those duties is under-qualified, according to the Minister.
Earlier this year, Dr Norton admitted that the change in the procurement system resulted in the drug shortages that were plaguing the country.
The Public Health Ministry introduced a new system for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies. This was accompanied by several changes in the bidding documents which were intended to create a more level playing field among competitors.
Reports have explained that the changes saw each region submitting to Central Government, a list of drugs needed and the total sum required to make the purchases. Monies will be warranted back to the Public Health Ministry from the Regions to facilitate a centralised procurement.
Initially, this administration had mandated that the drug purchases be done at a regional level.
However, the process was later changed after some $600 million was returned to the treasury, owing to the incapacity of the regions to source their own supplies.