Even Cabinet members find Minister Volda Lawrence’s explanation for sole-sourcing the G$606M no-tender emergency purchase of medicines from ANSA McAL incredulous. She is being asked to make a second attempt at explaining herself.
On Monday morning, she gave another scandalous explanation. Clearly, Minister Lawrence and the APNU+AFC are twisting like pretzel to explain another scandalous, corrupt deal. Who is responsible? The buck has to stop somewhere. The first stop is the Minister of Public Health, the final stop is the President.
The President insists that people would be disciplined if wrongdoings were committed. There is now no question that wrongdoings had been committed. So, will Minister Lawrence be disciplined? Or will the “moles” and other staff be the fall guys, taking the rap for corruption that at least Minister Lawrence, by her approval of the sole-sourced contract, is totally complicit in.
Minister Lawrence cannot be serious when she justifies the ANSA McAL contract on the basis of a donation of refrigerators worth a few hundred thousand dollars for a transaction of more than G$606 million, with overpayment of almost G$300M. It is apposite to note that for over a decade, the NEW GPC had provided, for free, warehouse space of thousands of square feet, including cold storage worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
For good measure, Minister Lawrence defended the high prices charged for the medicines by saying that the supplier had to air-freight the medicines. Again, this cannot justify sole-sourcing, and cannot justify the absurdly inflated prices. The resort to a petty donation as justification for a G$606M contract is obscene and insulting.
Minister Lawrence insists that she had to approve the contract because of the shortage of supplies, and was therefore acting in the interest of the people. But these shortages have been chronic since June 2015. In fact, George Norton, the former Public Health Minister, confessed this past week that the Public Health Ministry has been plagued with medicine shortages since June 2015. In early 2016, Norton had explained that the shortages had to do with the implementation of a more accountable procurement arrangement.
This makes Minister Lawrence’s explanation an unholy smokescreen, deliberately thrown up as she tries to spin the corrupt transaction as a response to an “emergency”.
While rampant chronic shortages of medicines have existed in the public health system since June 2015, the “emergency” claimed by Minister Lawrence was not driven by those shortages, but was an engineered “emergency” designed to provide “rewards” to chosen beneficiaries.
The Minister identified “moles” as part of the problem, but “moles” did not cause the shortage; cancellations and delays of tenders compounded chronic shortages. Moles did not sole-source items for an “engineered” emergency worth over G$606M; the Minister approved the contract. The “moles” did not transact a corrupt deal; the GPHC and the Ministry of Public Health, part of the APNU+AFC machinery, committed a corrupt deal.
Lawrence further cast blame on rogue staff of the GPHC and the Public Health Ministry for complicity in creating the “emergency”, but shortages of medicines and delays and cancellations of tenders have been ongoing for now almost 20 months, while APNU+AFC have stoutly denied shortages in Parliament and to the public.
Minister Lawrence also equated the “emergency” with the non-delivery of medicines by contractors who failed to supply medicines, even though they were given contracts and paid. She neglected to provide information about the delinquent suppliers. Information is available that certain suppliers bid low prices in 2015 and 2016, some through sole-sourced contracts; and they failed to deliver, seeking to renegotiate the prices. One even brought in medicines from questionable sources, only for the Analyst Food and Drug Department to refuse the medicines entry.
But these are not reasons for sole-sourcing, unless the Minister is now saying that only ANSA McAL is qualified to supply medicines to the Public Health system.
Unfortunately, sole-sourced contracts have become a well-entrenched form of procurement under the APNU+AFC. As the corruption of this deal is further exposed, APNU+AFC and its allies are busy trying to distract and obfuscate. A fake news story in one section of the media charged that the NEW GPC did not deliver all its supplies in a 2015 contract. The New GPC has offered proof in the form of delivery notes to show that the Ministry of Health had received all medicines for which the NEW GPC was contracted to supply. Another fake story claimed that of another G$900M worth of sole-sourced medicines, the New GPC got a G$400M contract. The NEW GPC insists its officials were approached in early March to supply G$20M worth of “emergency” medicines, which was supplied within 24 hours!
This is plain and simple corruption, nothing less. The Guyanese people must show unreserved revulsion at the abuse of tax payers’ money.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy