…on Drug procurement findings
Following recommendations made by the Board of Inquiry (BoI) that was set up to probe allegations of mismanagement and malpractices within the procurement process of pharmaceuticals at the Public Health Ministry, Minister of State Joseph Harmon on Friday asserted that Government will take actions on the matter.
Speaking at the first post-Cabinet press briefing for the year, the Minister said, “The Board has made some findings and some recommendations (and) it is up to the Government, once these recommendations are laid before it, to decide on how it will proceed… (But) I want to assure you, in fact, that Government will take actions on some of these things but it is a matter which has to be first of all deliberated at the Cabinet and then decisions will be made.”
According to the Minister of State, Cabinet is scheduled to deliberate on the report submitted by the BoI at its next meeting on Tuesday.
In the same breath, however, Harmon criticised the media for publishing the contents of the report before it is dealt with at the hands of Government. Local media entities got wind of the report on Thursday, which recommended among other things, that several senior officials at the Public Health Ministry be removed or fired, and ran articles on its findings the following day.
The Minister of State noted that it is unfortunate that the characters of those persons mentioned in the report are ‘already assassinated’, noting that Government will now have to have a “careful and measured response” to the recommendations made in the report.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence told Guyana Times that she is currently looking at the report ahead of Cabinet’s next meeting.
“I have to read it first and then I’ll be able to have my questions and decide who I should be speaking with,” she said, when asked whether she is consulting with former Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton.
The BoI, led by retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Winston Cosbert, from its three weeks probe made some 21 recommendations, which it said aims “to increase transparency and improve efficiency and effectiveness in the procurement of pharmaceuticals,” at the Public Health Ministry.
The probe was triggered by allegations of staffers of the Public Health Ministry passing inside information to bidders seeking lucrative drug procurement contracts. Cosbert was tasked with looking into the allegations of unauthorised disclosure of information, mismanagement and malpractices in the procurement of pharmaceuticals at the Ministry.
The Bol accused a senior official of being “wilfully evasive and deceptive” during his testimony.
According to the BoI report, a senior official was approached by an accountant attached to the Ministry’s Materials Management Unit with proof that another employee was giving insider information to a bidder, but he failed to act on it. The BoI did not find sufficient, his explanation as to why there was no investigation into the matter or informed the subject Minister.
Moreover, the BoI recommended that Permanent Secretaries should not be on the evaluating committee for their respective Ministries.
On the other hand, it was also recommended that Deputy Permanent Secretary Colette Adams be censured and disciplined for “breach/neglect in the performance of her duties”. Recommendations were also made for the Finance Manager’s contract not to be renewed, as well as the immediate firing of a staff member who leaked insider information to a Trinidadian company.
The BoI further outlined that a MOPH employee,a female employee who is the alleged insider, had admitted during her testimony that she had infact spoken to a bidder from Trinidadian pharmaceutical company, Western Scientific, which was soliciting the leaked information.
To this end, “During her testimony at the Board of Inquiry she admitted under oath that she did have a conversation with (Mr Edwin McKoon of Western Scientific), a supplier of pharmaceuticals… It is evident from the evidence that Ms Aaron was conspiring with Mr McKoon to gain insider information that obviously would have been used to his advantage over his competitors,” the report revealed.
Furthermore, the BoI noted that the Trinidadian company was hostile to the BoI and failed to appear before it; thus, a recommendation was made that McKoon be barred from any future bidding here.
Fly by Night Company
Meanwhile, the BoI also recommended criminal and legal proceedings against two other companies following its probe. One of the companies against which criminal investigations was recommended is the Parika-based Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc (CSMI), which had come under criticisms for being a “fly by night” company, which was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from the Public Health Ministry.
CMSI, which was given the sole sourcing contract, is allegedly a financier of one of the political parties in the coalition Government. In November 2015, the company, which just has an address at Parika with no sign of employees or business activity, won its first sole sourced contract to supply $35.1 million of HIV rapid test kits for the Public Health Ministry. The HIV tests kits were simply bought over the Internet and shipped into the country. When Guyana Times had reported on the issue, the company defended itself by accusing this newspaper of biasness.
Meanwhile, the report also states, “It is the view of the Board of Inquiry that a criminal investigation be launched to determine the authenticity of the letter produced by Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc with a view of instituting criminal charges.”
The other company, Meditron Inc, was also fingered for not honouring its contractual obligations for a tender that it was awarded.
“It is recommended that the contract signed between the Ministry of Public Health and Meditron Inc… be brought to the attention of the honourable Minister of Legal Affairs, with a view of instituting legal proceedings since it was revealed that Meditron Inc failed to honour their contractual obligation under the terms of this contract,” the report outlined.
Back in November, former Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton had recommended to Cabinet for an inquiry to be established into the country’s procurement system. He had expressed his concerns during an interview with the Guyana Times at the time.
With regards to the former Public Health Minister, the BoI noted that he “should be reminded of his functions enshrined in the laws of Guyana. Ministry of Public Health Act Chapter 32:01 Section (4) (a) – (w),” which outlines the 23 functions of a Health Minister.
Trinidadian companies, Scientific and Medical Products Limited (SciMed) and Western Scientific Company Limited operating in Guyana, were debarred by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for fraud and collusion practices on local projects funded by the Bank. SciMed was debarred from March 31, 2016 to October 15, 2020, for fraudulent practices. The company is a distributor of laboratory and process equipment, and exclusively represents a number of leading manufacturers in the UK.
Additionally, another four-year sanction over the same period was meted out to Western Scientific Company Limited also over fraudulent practices. This Trinidadian company is a marketing, sales and distribution firm, specialising in the areas of scientific, clinical/medical, furniture, audio-visual, education, technical service and consultancy. (Guyana Times)