Addressing a full room, Minister of Health Dr George Norton yesterday hailed the efforts being implemented to end the prequalification process for medical drug supplies in favour of open bidding but he acknowledged that the present system will have to continue in the interim.
At a pre-bidding meeting held at the Regency Suites, Georgetown, the health minister also said that because the nation’s health was at stake, sole sourcing could not cease to exist as emergency cases could potentially arise.
The prequalification process which has essentially resulted in sole sourcing had controversially handed the lion’s share of contracts to the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC) in recent years.
Subsequent to the minister’s remarks, acting Permanent Secretary of the Public Health Ministry, Trevor Thomas told the room filled with potential bidders, some first-timers, that there would need to be a system in place to ensure that while the new process is being implemented the system is not starved of pharmaceuticals.
Speaking to Stabroek News afterwards, Thomas said that he expects that over the course of the next six to seven months the prequalification system would work alongside the open-tender process. “The current system will most likely have to continue,” he noted.
He said that the evaluation process for the new system would need to be streamlined and the time necessary to put the potential bidders through a technical evaluation would not be a short period.
He spoke specifically of the ending of NGPC’s contract in October this year, stating that the technical persons at the ministry would be working to forecast exactly when the pharmaceutical company would cease supplies of drugs in the New Year.
He told Stabroek News that the intention behind open bidding is to ensure that no potential bidder feels disenfranchised or excluded from a process that every Guyanese has the right to partake in. He stated that the intention was also not to cut off major companies that had previously been chosen under the prequalification process.
On April 21st, the PPP/C Cabinet gave its no-objection to the award of a contract for US$6.7 million (approximately $1.4 billion) to NGPC. To date all of the payments including a contentious $572 million payment to NGPC that was sped up prior to the May 11 general and regional elections have been paid to the company. New GPC currently supplies roughly 80% of drugs to the health ministry.
The health ministry’s Procurement Manager Prakash Sookdeo told Stabroek News yesterday that so far NGPC had supplied roughly 70% of the contractual obligation while saying that the technical staff were keeping a keen eye on delivery systems to ensure that there is no shortage at any time.
Stabroek News was informed that the new open bidding will consist of contract payments being handed over upon delivery of the drugs in accordance with contract specifications. Instead of the 100% advance payment that was utilized under the prequalification, which is being phased out, there will now be a 40% advance.
The emphasis on a predetermined delivery schedule is aimed at staggering the supply of drugs and not overburdening the system which has limited storage capability. This newspaper was told that there has long been a “last in, first out” mentality which has resulted in expired drugs being stuck in the system and this required immediate attention.
The ministry will be implementing the recommendation to ensure that drugs entering Guyana do so with 75% of the shelf life intact. The recommendation was made by the Supply Chain Management System (SCMS), a USAID-funded project that provides technical assistance to the ministry. Under the guidelines being phased out, companies were allowed to import drugs with 18 months shelf life. A representative from SCMS cautioned potential bidders in the audience that the 18-month shelf life was not acceptable. He said that drugs are manufactured with a five-year shelf life and to only be imported into Guyana with an 18-month shelf life begs the question where the drugs have been for the prior 42 months and what the storage systems have been like.
Marlon Cole, Director of the Food and Drugs Department told Stabroek News that they issue permits allowing for drug importation within six months. He said that when the drugs are imported the department would not know directly. He said that while data is not kept on how many companies have imported drugs with the minimum shelf life and how often, it would be something that the department looks into. Cole did note that resources were scarce as the department has only three inspectors.
All in attendance were given a copy of the preliminary requirements for the procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical consumables and were told that the ministry hoped to implement open tendering by the end of the week and make available tender documents.
The document handed out to the prospective bidders covered a wide range of areas including the invitation to tender, the tender data sheet, qualification requirements, evaluation criteria and the contract. (Pushpa Balgobin)