$111M in drugs purchased under APNU/AFC for Reg. 2 cannot be accounted for – PAC hears

A new study finds that drug prices can vary dramatically in the developing world, especially as a country moves up the economic ladder.

During a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, confusion regarding what happened to $111.5 million that was supposed to go towards procuring drugs in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), prompted calls from the committee for a special investigation into drug procurement in other regions as well.

In his 2019 report, Auditor General Deodat Sharma found that an Inter-Departmental Warrant for $210.1 million was issued to the Health Ministry to procure drugs on behalf of Region Two.

A subsequent financial return had indicated that all the money was spent. When reconciliation was done in August 2020 by the Material Management Unit (MMU), however, only $98.5 million in drugs had been delivered.

When he appeared virtually before the PAC, former Regional Executive Officer (REO) Denis Jaikaran blamed the then Health Ministry, who he noted has to account for the drugs. He was also questioned as to what efforts were made to account for the missing $111.5 million, during his time as REO.

Jaikaran, who caused consternation among some members of the PAC due to the presence of People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) paraphernalia on his person and in the video background, claimed that he fully cooperated with the MMU.

“I’m answering the question from Madame Teixeira, what efforts were made when I was there? So, I’m saying clearly the efforts that were made, (was) that we continued when we would have made those available sums of money to the Ministry of Finance, the RHO would have been in regular contact with the MMU, to allow for her to be able to do the reconciliation. And whatever items would have been received, to make the necessary recording.”

Meanwhile, PAC members Juan Edghill, who also serves as the Minister of Public Works, and Dr Vishwa Mahadeo both urged the Audit Office to do a further investigation and try to make contact with the Regional Health officer at the time.

“I think we need to get clarity. So, we need to work both with the MMU, that is Ministry of Health MMU and the region. And I think we need to get the RHO. Because Dr. Ranji Singh started in 2020. We need to get the RHO who was in 2019 and the former REO, to see if we can clarify all of this,” Mahadeo said.

“We don’t want speculation and casting blame. But the layman listening to this will say if the Ministry of Health is standing by their documentation and they sent a full $210 Million worth of drugs to the region and the region could only account for $98.5 Million, then there are drugs circulating somewhere else in the region,” Edghill added.

Meanwhile, PAC member Gail Teixeira went even further, calling for a special investigation into other regions and their drug procurement. She noted that discrepancies between drugs received and the warrants issued by regions are not limited to Region Two, or the year 2019.

“I would like to suggest to the PAC that maybe we agree that there be a special meeting of the Auditor General, FS, Ministry of Health and the others, as well as the regions that have this problem, to have a full investigation. My own view is that the Auditor General may need to do a special investigation into the regions where this occurred, not just region two.”

“The same problem occurred in 2020 for Region Two and in fact, there was no reconciliation done at all. That is why I’m recommending the Auditor General have a full investigation to look into this,” Teixeira said.