$605M Drug scandal: No reason for COI into Lawrence’s involvement – Harmon

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– GPHC cannot investigate itself – Jagdeo

At his post-Cabinet press briefing, State Minister Joseph Harmon told reporters that there is absolutely no need for the Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence to be investigated for the controversial $605 million sole sourced contract which was awarded to ANSA McAL for the procurement of “emergency drugs” for the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC), as she is the subject Minister and has oversight of everything that occurs within the sector.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon

“As far as I am aware, there is nothing to inquire as to Minister Lawrence’s personal involvement in the matter. Minister Lawrence is the Minister of Public Health and therefore has overall responsibility for everything that happens within that sector. So as far as I am aware, there is nothing in respect to Minister Lawrence’s personal involvement that requires an investigation”, Harmon told journalists on Thursday.

Lawrence is still under fire, and although she requested that the Board of the Georgetown Hospital Corporation carry out its own investigation to determine the legality of the procurement, calls have been made for proof to be shown who really gave the go ahead for the contract to be signed.

The PPP early this week accused Lawrence of ministerial interference, stressing that if there is a functioning Board at the institution, then the Minister would have gone past her boundary to give such an order.

“This cannot be right; everybody has cried out against it,” Member of Parliament Bishop Juan Edghill had told a news conference on Monday.

“If there is a crisis at the GPHC, it is not for the Minister to intervene, it is the Board. So if this is not an act of corruption, I call on the Chairman of the Board to make available the minutes of the meeting where this was disclosed to them and what was disclosed to them to act in remedying the emergency situation.”

Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence

That same day, Minister Lawrence met with the media during a live press conference and reported that an investigation had been launched into the awarding of the contract to ANSA McAL.

She however shied away from answering some of the pertinent questions in relation to the controversial matter by claiming that the information would be provided in the report following the investigation.

In defending herself, the Minister said she wrote a letter to the newly-installed Board of the Georgetown Hospital ordering an investigation into the matter in light of the storm created on the issue by the media.

The investigation will seek to determine if or how the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) was involved in the process, how the shortlisted companies were evaluated, if all the drugs were supplied by ANSA McAL on time, among other aspects.

Although ANSA McAL was awarded the contract in order to fast-track the supply of drugs, the Minister confirmed that not all of the drugs were delivered.

When asked, she disclosed that only a “large quantity” was delivered.

Meanwhile, other investigations have been launched into instances of delinquent suppliers.

Investigating themselves

Opposition Leader Dr Bharat Jagdeo

General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has rubbished recent announcements of a probe to be launched by the Board of Directors of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) into the controversial $605 million contract.

Following weeks of criticisms from stakeholders, Minister Lawrence on Monday revealed that she has written a letter to the newly installed GPHC Board, ordering an investigation into the matter in light of the storm created on the issue by the media.

However, at a press conference on Thursday, Jagdeo pointed out that the GPHC Board cannot do an impartial investigation for the main reason that it falls under the Public Health Ministry.

“How could the Georgetown Public Hospital and the Board of that Hospital which is appointed by the Minister do an impartial investigation of the Minister; that’s an attempt to sidetrack the issue. So when Volda Lawrence said that, it was to create the impression that they are trying to get to the truth of the matter and she had no involvement in this matter because they will come up with fake investigation and fake report. The Board cannot impartially investigate,” the Opposition Leader posited.

He went on to point to the previous probe into the Sussex Street Drug Bond issue, noting that a ‘wishy-washy’ investigation was done – led by Minister of State Joseph Harmon, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, who found that nothing was wrong with the deal.

Against this backdrop, Jagdeo noted that in order to prevent Government from sweeping this matter under the carpet as well and the only way to ensure impartiality is to have the investigation done by the Auditor General and the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

“The Auditor General should investigate this whole deal and not just this particular purchase because I gather at Georgetown Hospital itself, in last year of the nearly $2 billion spent only about 200 million went to public tender. So you have close to $1.8 billion that was spent last year through direct purchasing,” the General Secretary stated.

To this end, the Opposition Leader said that his party will be putting questions to Government in Parliament, asking from January 1, 2016 to February this year, who the contractors were that got contracts from the Georgetown Public Hospital, what form of tender they went through, what was the price of the contract and whether they have delivered, etc.

“We intend to ask this question in the Parliament but I suspect, like with everything else, we’re not gonna get many answers,” he noted.

On the other hand, Jagdeo sought to respond to comments made by Minister Harmon at the Post Cabinet press briefing on Thursday where he said that there is no need to investigate Minister Lawrence following the controversial contract.

“He is saying the Minister cannot be investigated… She has the right to basically do whatever she wants. The procurement laws of the country don’t give the Ministers a special role outside of their functions of the Cabinet. Even that role has been diminished because the Public Procurement Commission has now been put in place so the role of Cabinet, that no objection role – that limited role – should have been removed. So if a Minister intervenes in the egregious way, in the blatantly partisan way that Volda Lawrence did – instruct this staff to go ahead and make the purchase – then that is illegal,” Jagdeo asserted.

Earlier this month, the media broke the story about the management of the Georgetown Public Hospital deliberately creating an emergency situation in order to sole-source drugs from its preferred supplier.

Within the last four months, the Public Hospital has cancelled or delayed four of its five public tenders, thereby creating a situation wherein there was a massive shortage of pharmaceuticals.

In a letter dated February 28, 2017, GPHC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Allan Johnson thanked the Public Health Minister for authorising the procurement of medical supplies from ANSA McAL to the tune of $605,962,200, even though local firms could have supplied the same quantity and quality of drugs at better prices.

Questions are now being raised regarding why local firms which could have supplied the pharmaceuticals at cheaper prices had been sidelined. It raises the issue of motive and possible corruption, which is reminiscent of the earlier decision to rent an at the time a non-existent pharmaceutical warehouse for millions in taxpayers dollars a month.

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