It is by no means an overstatement to say that the refusal by the Ministry of Health to secure drugs for state institutions through public tender rather than persist with its sole-sourcing method that basically puts public funds into the pocket of the Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (GPC) without the company having to do much more than simply go out an acquire the drugs is highly improper. It is, after all, no secret that GPC Director Ranjisinghi Ramroop is a friend of the administration. Dr Ramroop, moreover, is by no means the only person close to the administration who has been known to benefit from its preferential generosity.
Sole sourcing and selective tendering are among the favoured ways of awarding contracts to people who are strategically placed to benefit from state-provided largesse. They create a wholly uneven playing field in the business community by shutting out from what ought to be an open and transparent tender process, legitimate contractors who may not be friends of the regime and who, in consequence, must, like the biblical Lazarus, settle for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. In other words, the kind of sole sourcing which GPC enjoys can be used as both a political and an economic lever to patronize friends and deny those who are not so favoured.
Three issues arise here. First, there is the absolute scandal of the approval of these sole-sourcing arrangements by a state-appointed body called the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board – based in all likelihood on political directives. Such arrangements disqualify some contractors purely on the grounds that they are not sufficiently well-connected. Secondly, there is the matter of the role that these dubious practices play in fuelling corruption in the state-related acquisition transactions; and these are continually outlined in the reports of the Auditor General. There is another issue that arises here and that is the protracted and stony silence of the national private sector bodies on issues like the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission despite the fact that in the absence of such a commission the real victims are contractors of one sort or another since it is they who continue to be excluded from the tender process and, in effect, continue to be denied the right to work. Do the local private sector bodies like the Private Sector Commission, the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry not consider matters such as this deserving of some kind of public comment?
In contending – as he did recently – that the Stabroek News is targeting his business, Dr Ramroop is overlooking the fact that by according the New GPC the privilege of sole-sourcing the Ministry of Health is ignoring a recommendation made by the Auditor General six years ago that it pre-qualify international suppliers every three years for the supply of drugs and medical equipment. More than that, his posture of hurt feelings appears to be premised on the assumption that the prerogative of sole-sourcing is an entitlement which is the same as saying that no other local contractor deserves the right to be afforded the opportunity to supply drugs to the Ministry of Health through the public tender process. That is an assumption which Dr Ramroop must disabuse himself of since there are far bigger issues at stake here than his own hurt feelings.