$605M drug scandal: Nandlall calls out Lawrence for denying she approved purchase

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… calls on SOCU to launch an investigation into the matter

Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall has called out Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence for her about-turn in the state of affairs surrounding the controversial $605M “emergency” drug purchases.

Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence

Lawrence was quoted by a ‘source’ in the State newspaper, Chronicle, denying that she approved the purchase of $605M worth of emergency drugs to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) when she appeared on Friday last, before the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) which had launched an investigation into the sordid affair.

The drugs were sole sourced by Trinidadian firm ANSA McAl at prices exorbitantly higher than what could have been provided by local manufacturers, leading observers to speculate that collusion was at play.

This point was further reinforced following accusations levied against the GPHC that it was deliberately creating an “emergency” situation in order to sole source drugs from its preferred supplier.

GPHC had cancelled and delayed four out of its five public tenders within the last four months (earlier this year), thereby creating a situation where there was a massive shortage of pharmaceuticals.

The deal also had local manufactures fielding questions as to why local firms which could have supplied the pharmaceuticals at cheaper prices had been sidelined.

The controversy first came to light when letters by then CEO of GPHC, Alan Johnson came to the fore highlighting the sole sourcing transaction.

The Public Health Ministry subsequently issued a statement, where Lawrence admitted that she fast tracked the procurement because of the ’emergency’ surrounding the need for the drugs.

The Ministry in their release said that “after meeting with public health officials around the country and at GPHC, the Honourable Minister was compelled in the interest of the health of the people of Guyana, to ensure that an adequate supply of drugs were immediately available in the country to meet the current crisis. To this end, she sought to fast track the procurement of these pharmaceuticals to minimise the negative effects on patients due to the shortage of some critical drugs. This influenced the decision to seek the green light from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for ANSA McAL to supply drugs and pharmaceuticals to the tune of some G$605M.”

Moreover the release quoted the Minister as saying “my priority is to ensure the nation’s health is given top priority. The health system will not be held hostage by unprincipled persons and therefore I made the decision to shortlist the critical but unavailable items and the suppliers with the ability to provide them on time to avert deepening the drug demand difficulties.”

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

Nandlall posited that “if what the Chronicle published is the truth, then the Minister deliberately and calculatedly misled the PPC, last Friday. At a minimum, the statements attributed to her starkly contradict an earlier Public Statement issued by her own Ministry.”

“In the circumstances, I call on the Commissioner of Police and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to, immediately, launch an investigation into this matter. After all, this transaction involves the misuse or unlawful use of $605M of public monies. They are multiple breaches of, inter alia, the Procurement Act, the Public Corporation Act and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act” Nandlall said in a statement.

 See Nandlall’s full statement below:

The Guyana Chronicle is spinning away for Minister of Public Health (MOPH), Volda Lawrence. Today, in its lead story under the blazing caption, “FED A BUNCH OF LIES – Min. Lawrence says she never approved purchase of emergency drugs,” the Chronicle publishes: “PUBLIC Health Minister Volda Lawrence has denied approving the purchase of some $605M worth of emergency drugs by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) when she appeared before the Public Procurement Commission, according to a reliable source. Minister Lawrence appeared before the commission on Friday as an investigation continues into the controversial procurement of over $605M in critical drugs in short supply in March 2017 for GPHC.”

In the said article, the Minister is reported to have informed the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) that is was Chief Executive Officer, Alan Johnson, who, apparently, acting without the Ministry’s authorization, engineered the controversial purchase. In short, Minister Lawrence threw Johnson under the proverbial bus.

If what the Chronicle published is the truth, then the Minister deliberately and calculatedly misled the PPC, last Friday. At a minimum, the statements attributed to her starkly contradict an earlier Public Statement issued by her own Ministry.

In a Public Statement issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) on the 11th Day of March 2017, the Ministry detailed the situation of drug shortage at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and said of Minister Lawrence: “To this end, she sought to fast track the procurement of these pharmaceuticals to minimise the negative effects on patients due to the shortage of some critical drugs. This influenced the decision to seek the greenlight from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for ANSA McAL to supply drugs and pharmaceuticals to the tune of some G$605M.”

This statement was prominently carried and extensively quoted in an article published by the Stabroek News of March 12, 2017, under the caption, “Lawrence admits to ‘fast-tracking’ $605M drug buy due to crisis-level shortage – says procurement process not breached despite bypassing tender board.” The first two paragraphs of that article reads:
“Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence yesterday admitted to “fast-tracking” the purchase of $605 million from ANSA McAL for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and maintained that the public procurement process was not breached although the national tender board was not aware of the decision until its approval was sought after the transaction. In a statement issued by the ministry yesterday, Lawrence for the first time publicly acknowledged that there is a crisis-level drug shortage, which she blamed on a conspiracy between contractors and ministry staff.”

Significantly, the aforementioned MOPH’s statement has disappeared from the Ministry’s website; neither can it be found on the Department of Public Information’s website. I refuse to believe that this is accidental or coincidental. It is by design.

In the circumstances, I call on the Commissioner of Police and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to, immediately, launch an investigation into this matter. After all, this transaction involves the misuse or unlawful use of $605M of public monies. There are multiple breaches of, inter alia, the Procurement Act, the Public Corporation Act and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.

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