Procurement body must probe $605m purchase -Goolsarran

With the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) still to pronounce on the $605M drug purchase sanctioned by Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran has called on the commission to launch an immediate investigation.

He believes that the PPC should also examine the operations of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC)  given that the evidence suggests that the hospital has no procurement rules of its own as required and to guide the entity accordingly as per the Public Procurement Act of the country.

“The way forward is for the Public Procurement Commission to mount an immediate investigation to determine whether the circumstances at the GPHC justify the use of sole- source procurement,” Goolsarran told Stabroek News.

“The PPC should also examine the operations of the GPHC, including the functioning of its board, that might have caused the Minister to intervene by authorizing emergency supplies… in collaboration with the NPTAB, (the PPC), should take steps to ensure that the GPHC has its own procurement rules and regulations, as required by Section 24 of the Procurement Act,” he added.

On March 14, PPC Chairman Carol Corbin had told Stabroek News that the body will this week review the emergency purchase of drugs for the GPHC in the wake of concerns that procurement procedures were breached.

“We are going to conduct a review of the process so that we can ascertain what has happened and if the procedures have been followed,” Corbin said.

She confirmed that the issue was discussed at the March 14 PPC meeting and the decision taken to formally seek answers from the GPHC on the contract, as the PPC was not aware of the contract and it was only through the press that it learned of it. “We know nothing about the contract. We are not aware of it because the process is not that the contract would come to us. I don’t even know if there is a contract. We have to do a review of the whole process,” she stressed.

The procedure used in the contract did not conform to the provisions of the Public Procure-ment Act and to date, Lawrence has not explained under what provisions of the Act the $605m purchase was made from Trinidad conglomerate ANSA McAl, although she has claimed that the law was not violated.

Lawrence has said that she fast-tracked the purchases due to a crisis-level drug shortage. Her predecessor, Dr George Norton, who served up until Lawrence’s appointment at the start of the year, has now stated that there was indeed a drug shortage.

In addition, Lawrence has pointed out that ANSA donated four refrigerators to the GPHC and this revelation is a sign of worry for Goolsarran, as he called the act improper saying that it “can influence future award of contracts”.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon last Friday said that Lawrence would over the weekend issue a second explanation to clarify the matter, as the government faces a major controversy over the violation of procurement rules.

However, up to press time, the Public Health Minister had still not done so and efforts to contact her by calling her mobile went unanswered.

And while the Cabinet Secre-tary would not say on Friday  if Cabinet was aware of the purchase before it was publicised two weeks ago, he said it hopes that the minister’s second statement would clear up any concerns that the public might have.

Goolsarran is hoping that Lawrence will clarify if the GPHC board was involved in the decision to procure the pharmaceuticals and supplies since she can only give directions to the GPHC of a general nature in relation to policy. To this extent, the Minister acted outside her authority in authorising the purchase, he believes.

And pointing to Section 28 of the Procurement Act, which deals with sole sourcing procurement, he noted that although the GPHC requested the NPTAB to approve the sums required to pay ANSA McAl and two other companies, the law is specific on this type of purchase.

“The decision to procure the drugs from ANSA McAL preceded the request for the NPTAB to approve of the purchase since both the invoice from ANSA McAL and the letter of request carried the same date.

“However, it is not within the authority of the NPTAB to grant approval for sole source procurement as a result of an emergency,” Goolsarran noted.

“The Procurement Act is specific as regards this form of procurement. Section 28 permits sole source procurement in circumstances where `owing to a catastrophic event, there is an urgent need for the goods, services or construction, making it impractical to use other methods of procurement because of the time involved in using those methods’. Does the apparent shortage of drugs and medical supplies at the GPHC constitute a catastrophic event? I guess opinions will differ on this score but we need to ascertain the facts before drawing any conclusions,” he added.

Looking at the ratio of the amounts awarded to three companies for emergency supplies, ANSA’s $605M, the New GPC $20M and Chirosyn Technologies $2.1M, the former Auditor General also cautioned government to not allow the monopolising of the contract awards for the health sector.

“I might add that, considering that the New GPC was the major supplier of drugs and medical supplies to the Government, the purchase from this company is extremely disproportionate compared with that from ANSA McAL. In this regard, we have to be extremely careful in not replacing one de facto monopoly with another!” he exclaimed.

The Guyana Trades Union Congress has also reminded government that it was its constituent parties that insisted on the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and had fought long and hard for transparency, especially in the area of public procurement.  The GTUC has said that Lawrence’s action needed to be addressed because if left unattended, it has the propensity to become pervasive and threaten the welfare of the society.

“Now a senior minister of government has arbitrarily determined that she alone, having the best interest of Guyanese at heart, will operate in breach of the law and good practices, on the pretext that there was no other way to meet the immediate demand. That said minister failed to recognise that such concern could have been channelled to the relevant Tender Board authority for expediting ‘a national need’”, the GTUC asserted.

“This is how the PPP started and the few that came out to condemn were told to give them a chance, which resulted in full-fledged rape of the economy and the country being ranked the most corrupt in the English-speaking Caribbean by Transparency International. Avoiding continuing along this path requires nipping every errant conduct in the bud and holding those responsible to account… The government if serious about its image of stamping out corruption must not appear to condone or ignore the violations in financial accountability. It is therefore called upon to launch an investigation into this violation committed by the minister and to ensure a strong signal is sent to others by meting out the appropriate sanctions,” it said, while adding that government’s silence could serve as its own indictment in the matter.

 

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