The current prorogation of Parliament has stymied parliamentary scrutiny of the Ministry of Health and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Carl Greenidge is concerned about who has been supplying the nation with drugs over the last six months and if any procurement laws are being broken.
“We have a situation where government is buying billions of dollars of drugs and, in defiance of the laws, has failed to provide the necessary information,” Greenidge told Stabroek News.
His concerns come even as the companies that bid to prequalify to supply the sector nearly one year ago have not to date been notified about the status of their bids by the Ministry of Health, although Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon has announced that the New GPC is the sole pre-qualified supplier .
The Ministry of Health remains silent about who has supplied it with drugs since July last year and why bidders have not to date been notified, although the entity is required by law to do so.
Following the expiration of the 2012-2014 contract on June 30 last year, new arrangements would have had to be in place for July to December 2016. Stabroek News was told by Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran that the point person at the ministry was Permanent Secretary Leslie Cadogan but despite numerous efforts to contact him, he has not made himself available to this newspaper.
Since Luncheon’s announcement in July last year that only the New GPC had been selected to supply drugs to the health sector for the 2014 to 2016 period, there have been formal protests by Trinidad-based conglomerate ANSA McAL and a court challenge of the decision by the International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA). IPA, in its court challenge, said that the decision was unconstitutional and is seeking to have it set aside.
However, IPA would have to refile its High Court litigation as it had not been given official documentation on the status of its bid, a requirement in the Procurement Act, before court proceedings could be filed.
Luncheon, in October, acknowledged that official documentation was not sent to the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) informing it of Cabinet’s no-objection to the pre-qualification of New GPC and said it was perhaps a minor glitch on his office’s part. However he informed that the letter was subsequently dispatched.
An official of the NPTAB told Stabroek News that the letter was prepared around October 13 and was dispatched to the MOH and is logged in the NPTAB records.
When Luncheon was asked if government was aware of the developments of the non-disclosure to bidders, he said that he would be checking with the ministry to ascertain the status.
He later told Stabroek News that he too has had difficulty getting information from the ministry but that this newspaper should not stop in its pursuit of Cadogan.
Meanwhile, Greenidge said the powers of sanction by the PAC in the matter can see the censure of Ramsaran if it is found that laws were broken. “If the OP and Ministry of Health flout the law as regards the Procurement Act, the PAC may recommend to the various bodies, but more particularly to the Assembly, that the officers in question be sanctioned. The PAC could seek to censure the Minister,” he asserted.
As it relates to the purchase of drugs to date, Greenidge noted that the committee can ask the relevant personnel at the Ministry of Health or other government agencies to furnish any invoices to ascertain and verify the source of the drugs being purchased by the Ministry of Health. “[The PAC] can ask the accounting officers to provide any information it deems relevant which they have. The problems thrown up were not so much the source of drugs per se but adherence to procedures relating to procurement, causes of drugs expiring, etc. I would say that, as of now, the actual responses provided during the courses of the PAC deliberations were far from satisfactory. The process of follow-up and recommendations to the House have been frustrated by the decision to prorogue the House,” he lamented.
He explained that although it isn’t within the remit of the PAC to determine which company was pre-qualified to supply drugs to the health sector, it can ascertain from the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital whether the rules are being honoured. It could also call upon the Auditor General’s Department to investigate.
Greenidge said the supply of drugs remains one of the most contentious areas and the public and political representatives have been expressing serious concerns about the misappropriation of public resources by government.
“For the longest while one of the most contentious of these areas has been drug procurement. Each year, the government spends $8 billion of taxpayers’ money on drugs for the Georgetown Hospital and the health system. The law requires that before the decision to award, the government is to set out the criteria under which the contracts for the supply of these are to be awarded,” he said. “That notwithstanding, the New GPC Inc has been awarded the bulk of contracts, worth billions of dollars, to supply drugs to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and the Ministry of Health,” he added.
In 2012, the Auditor General reported that some $49.498 million in expired drugs were dumped by the Georgetown Public Hospital. The same occurred in 2011. At the same time, the system was characterised by shortages of critical drugs, such as saline drops and infusion liquids, and there was often no proper monitoring of the supplies, which were masked by the use of the New GPC’s bond to store the drugs bought from the company.
Greenidge believes that although there have mounting criticisms about drug procurement by government, nothing is being done to tackle the issue.
“The New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation [is] owned by Dr Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, who is closely associated with former President Bharrat Jagdeo. The company has been benefiting from billions of dollars annually, controlling supplies of up to 80 per cent of the drugs purchased by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and the Ministry of Health. All of this only goes to show that the stream of criticisms and concerns raised about the behaviour of the government as regards the misuse and abuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned money has not had a single discernible impact of the government’s behaviour,” he said. “They fervently believe that having been declared winners of an election entitles their ministers and associates to do as they wish, especially with our money. Even more worrying they seem to feel that they are entitled to do so forever,” he added.