Open bidding for drug supplies to the public health system will be back in play from next week, ending a prequalification process that had controversially handed the lion’s share of contracts to the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC) for many years.
The Public Health Ministry in conjunction with the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) will hold a pre-bidding meeting on Tuesday, December 15th for all potential pharmaceutical and medical consumable suppliers, according to an advertisement in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek.
This is the first move by the ministry to showcase that the much anticipated new drug procurement guidelines are being tested. The forum will be held at the Regency Suites, Brickdam between 10 am and midday. Registration starts at 9 am.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, acting Permanent Secretary of the Public Health Ministry, Trevor Thomas did not state if the new guidelines were finalised as yet. He did speak in the future tense when he noted that the new system will be an open, competitive bidding process and will move away from prequalification.
As he spoke about the move away from prequalification, Thomas acknowledged that systems will need to be put in place to ensure that there is not a large gap in orders that could result in a shortfall of public health pharmaceuticals.
He explained that the pre-bidding session will comprise a presentation by the ministry and the NPTAB through which potential suppliers will be informed of the World Health Organisation international standard for pharmaceutical suppliers as well as the procurement laws in Guyana as it pertains to pharmaceuticals.
Thomas said that “what will happen is having provided the information to potential bidders we will have the document information for sale and they can buy the documents. There is no prequalification. You want to supply us you buy the bid documents and you submit your bid.”
He noted that “we have a pre-bidding meeting, it’s to provide all potential bidders with information relevant to what the criteria are.
What the conditionalities that have to be met, not just in bidding to supply pharmaceuticals to the public system but what are the regulations in the relevant importing of pharmaceuticals, and drugs in the system.”
The permanent secretary said that armed with the information, potential bidders can be more informed of the requirements and then they themselves can make a decision whether to submit a bid or not.
Thomas said that moving away from prequalification will not be bureaucratic, stating that it is a move away from “the prequalification way (which) was a perceived as a monopoly by one or two companies to supply pharmaceuticals to the public health systems.”
He noted that the prequalification criteria meant that only those persons who met the criteria were put in a pool and could bid. He stated that the new arrangements would significantly open up the system.
Thomas noted that this will take time and that while the process is commencing next week it is not likely that it will be finalised hastily. He said that “If we are pre-bidding on the 15th that means that we have to take into consideration we have the pre-bid, they have to be evaluated, an award has to be made or awards depending how many people win. Then they would need time to source to supply us so we have to cater for all those things so we have to make sure that the public health system is not starved.”
He noted that “I can say unequivocally that we have not overlooked this fact… We have not overlooked the fact there is a period between when (the old system of) prequalification ends and new, open competition kicks in. We have to ensure that we are not short of our essential drugs.”
Responding to concerns that the public health system has already said that there are drug shortages, Thomas said “Let me put it this way. If there is a shortage it is not because of the new approach we are taking.”
He said that there was still an ongoing arrangement for the supply of pharmaceuticals. When pressed to speak about the ongoing contract with New GPC, Thomas noted that he would need time to answer any questions relating to this arrangement. He said that he was not the Permanent Secretary at the time those deals were arranged and as such he did not want to provide incorrect information.
The former PPP/C administration had been criticised for pre-qualification guidelines that many stated were skewed heavily in favour of New GPC.
Thomas had previously told Stabroek News that he hoped the process would be finalised well before the end of the year. He stated that now the process will start by the end of the year but it will take time before it becomes standard.
New GPC currently supplies roughly 80% of the drugs to the health ministry.
Stabroek News had asked Thomas previously what the current situation was with the halted $572 million payment to New GPC in connection with a contract that was awarded to the company weeks before the May 11th general elections. The APNU+AFC coalition cited the need for a full review once it assumed office.
He had stated that the ministry was complying with the contractual obligations however in August Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had told this newspaper that the entire contract for $2 billion, to be used for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies had been sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers for review and Cabinet was to pronounce on how to proceed.
On April 21st this year, the PPP/C Cabinet gave its no-objection to the award of a contract for US$6.7 million (approximately $1.4 billion) to New GPC.
While in opposition, both APNU and the AFC had vowed that they would revisit drug procurement and ensure that there was no monopoly. They had complained that billions of dollars had been channelled to New GPC over the years through sole-sourced contracts and later through the limiting of who could bid for contracts. New GPC was the only company to have pre-qualified under the procedures introduced by the PPP/C government and this had been met by howls of protests from other bidders, including Trinidad conglomerate ANSA McAl. New GPC had formed a close relationship with the former Bharrat Jagdeo administration and this continued under the Donald Ramotar administration. (Pushpa Balgobin)