Audit Office had cited embattled company for expired HIV kits on numerous occasions

Volda Lawrence
The expired kits were accepted under the nose of the Public Health Ministry, headed by Volda Lawrencearetaker Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence

Caribbean Medical Supplies, the company currently embroiled in scandal for supplying Guyana’s Public Health Ministry with expired Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) testing kits, has, in fact, been cited on numerous occasions over the past few years by the Auditor General because the Ministry bent the rules to procure drugs from them.

Back in 2017, the company was flagged by Auditor General Deodat Sharma in his 2016 report for having $7.6 million worth of outstanding deliveries as of September 2017. It was pointed out in the report that the Ministry kept $167 million worth of cheques (including the $7.6 million for Caribbean Medical Supplies) on hand rather than refunding them to the Consolidated Fund.

Section 43 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act states “Except as otherwise provided in this Act or in any other law, at the end of each fiscal year, any unexpended balance of public moneys issued out of the Consolidated Fund shall be returned and surrendered to the Consolidated Fund.”

Charged: Caribbean Medical Supplies Area Manager Devendra Rampersaud

The company was again cited by the AG in 2017 for having $67.8 million in outstanding deliveries dating from 2015. It had made efforts to clear its backlog, delivering $11.1 million worth of drugs between September 2016 and September 2017.

In the Auditor General’s 2017 report, it was also pointed out that Caribbean Medical Supplies was allocated $166.3 million for the supply of drugs and medical supplies. It was one of six companies that had outstanding deliveries as at September 2018.

That very report also documented the fact that the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) sole sourced 13 contracts totalling $91.4 million, which went to Caribbean Medical Supplies.

“According to the attached documentation, the supplier was the authorised distributor for the goods being procured. However, it could not be ascertained whether the supplier had exclusive rights to the goods being procured and whether there were other suppliers that the Ministry could have used to source the goods,” the Auditor General also wrote, though the Ministry indicated that the drugs were for emergencies.

Another finding was that Caribbean Medical Supplies was one of several companies that were awarded contracts and received millions in payments in 2017. Their contracts had stipulated that a 10 per cent performance security had to be submitted.

However, this was not paid and according to the Auditor General, this exposed the Ministry should the suppliers default. In the Ministry’s response, they admitted that no performance security was paid because the suppliers opted to supply more than the 10 per cent without being paid.

Even more discrepancies involving the company were picked up by the AG. Caribbean Medical Supplies received contracts worth almost $80 million from the Public Health Ministry to supply goods. However, the AG noted that the Ministry only sought approval from the tender boards after the goods were delivered.

“This practice contravened the requirement of the Procurement Act 2003. As a result, it could not be determined whether the Ministry received value for the sums expended, since there was no evidence that prices was evaluated to determine the most competitive supplier, the AG said. Again, the Ministry cited emergency reasons for the contravention.

Caribbean Medical Supplies was one of six companies that the Public Health Ministry wrote NPTAB on behalf of to request approval for them to participate in a restricted tender. NPTAB granted this approval, although no contract was eventually awarded since they did not meet the requirements.

The company now finds itself embroiled in a controversy involving its Area Manager, Devendra Rampersaud, who has been charged for supplying 400 expired HIV testing kits with misleading information to the Ministry of Public Health.

It is understood that the company was procured and paid to supply the testing kits but never followed through on its obligations. Reports indicate that after being pressured by the Ministry last year to supply the kits, the company mysteriously produced the kits without the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) even aware the supplies had entered the country.

In fact, the company had circumvented all established procedures by repackaging expired kits from Kenya and then smuggling them into Guyana to sell to the Government without the knowledge of the manufacturer or distributor.

Reports indicate that both the manufacturer of the kits, Trinity Biotech, and their Trinidad-based authorised distributor, Transcontinental Medical Products Limited, became suspicious and investigated the matter.

Trinity then wrote to the Guyana Government, bringing it to their attention and urging them to recall the kits since they posed a health risk to the public. Trinity also brought the matter to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) attention. This would raise serious questions, however, about the Public Health Ministry’s monitoring and quality assurance capabilities.