Drug procurement probe recommends removal of Permanent Secretary

A Board of Inquiry (BOI) into allegations of mismanagement and malpractices in the procurement of pharmaceuticals at the Ministry of Public Health has recommended the removal of current Permanent Secretary, Trevor Thomas and strongly recommended that the representative of a Trinidadian company be debarred from future tenders.

The BoI also recommended that deputy Permanent Secretary Colette Adams be censured and disciplined for “breach/neglect in the performance of her duties”, the Finance Manager’s contract not be renewed and the immediate firing of a staff member who leaked insider information to a Trinidadian company.

The report, done by retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, Winston Cosbert, and seen by Stabroek News, states that its twenty-one recommendations aim to “to increase transparency and improve efficiency and effectiveness in the procurement of pharmaceuticals,” at the Ministry of Public Health.

And while now former Health Minister Dr George Norton was not singled out for any wrongdoings, the board said that he “should be reminded of his functions enshrined in the laws of Guyana. Ministry of Public Health Act Chapter 32:01 Section (4) (a) – (w).”  Those laws are the total twenty-three functions of a Minister of Health.

Back in November of 2016, the BOI was established by government to probe allegations of the unauthorized disclosure of information, mismanagement and malpractices in the procurement of pharmaceuticals.

The Board of Inquiry stated that it held an in-camera hearing and received testimony from over thirty persons, evaluated views, conducted research and visited sites such as bonds and storage facilities of the Ministry of Health (MOH) before compiling its list of recommendations.

‘Willfully deceptive’

It was during the testimony of current Permanent Secretary Thomas, the BOI alleges that he was “willfully deceptive in his testimony” when he was being questioned. “He made inconsistent and deceptive statements during his testimony. The board finds that the inconsistencies were sufficiently material to affect the truthfulness and accuracy of his testimony,” the report states. And it recommended that, “The Permanent Secretary Mr. Trevor Thomas should be removed from the Ministry of Public Health due to his inability to effectively carry out the mandate of the ministry.”

In the BOI report, it points out that Thomas was approached by an accountant attached to the MOH’s Materials Management Unit with proof that another employee was giving insider information to a bidder but he did not act on it. Thomas’ explanation on why he did not have at least an investigation into the matter or inform his subject minister was not enough for the BOI.

The BOI recommended that Permanent Secretaries be pulled from the evaluation of contracts for their ministries saying, “The Permanent Secretaries of the various ministries should not be on the evaluating committee for his/her ministry.”

‘Insider information’

Kendazie Aaron, the employee against whom the insider allegations were made, also testified and it was during that testimony that she admitted that she had spoken to a bidder from a Trinidadian pharmaceutical company, Western Scientific  which was named as the company which solicited information.

“The Board of Inquiry recommends that Ms Kendazie Aaron be dismissed from the Ministry of Public Health. During her testimony at the Board of Inquiry she admitted under oath that she did have a conversation with (Mr Edwin McKoon of Western Scientific), a supplier of pharmaceuticals …,” the report asserts.

“It is evident from the evidence that Ms Aaron was conspiring with Mr McKoon to gain insider information that obviously would have been used to his advantage over his competitors,” it added.

The Trinidadian company was hostile to the BOI and failed to appear before it and a recommendation was made that McKoon be barred from bidding here and that a legal opinion be sought on the reviewing of contracts that he was awarded. “The Board of Inquiry found that he used to his advantage insider information that was provided by Kendazie Aaron… he failed to appear before the Board of Inquiry. Mr McKoon’s refusal and non- cooperation with the Board of Inquiry leaves several assumptions,” the report reads.

“It is highly recommended that Mr. McKoon be debarred from future tenders. It is recommended that legal advice be sought with the reviewing of contracts awarded to Mr Edwin McKoon,” it added.

Qualifications

The staff at the MMU was found to not have the qualifications commensurate with their job portfolios and a recommendation was made to have them all transferred “to a department suitable for their qualification and skills and alternatively be trained in the area of procurement.”

“The Ministry of Health should immediately fill the positions at the Materials Management Unit with personnel who have required qualifications and skills set given the fact that the department deals with multi-million dollar contracts…,” one recommendation stated.

Trevor Thomas

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