Drug procurement probe recommends removal of Permanent Secretary

-debarring of T&T company urged over insider info

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.

Trevor Thomas

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.

The report stated that McKoon had several times called Materials Management Unit (MMU) supervisor Mortrez Lindore enquiring about bids that were not yet made public.

It was Lindore who had gone to Permanent Secretary Thomas with the information on McKoon but he (Thomas) had not acted, according to the report.

It is not the first time that the President of Western Scientific, McKoon, has found himself named in fraudulent practices as he is currently barred from bidding for Inter-American Develop-ment Bank (IDB) projects. Neither McKoon nor his company can bid for IDB related contracts until 2020.

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.

Caribbean Medical Supplies

In addition to the barring of Trinidad’s Western Scientific Company and its head McKoon from bidding here, the BoI has also recommended criminal and legal proceedings against two other companies.

Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc. (CMSI) which had last year been the subject of criticisms as a “fly by night” company after it was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in Ministry of Public Health contracts, has been recommended by the BOI to be investigated criminally.

“It is the view of the Board of Inquiry that a criminal investigation be launched to determine the authenticity of the letter produced by Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc. with a view of instituting criminal charges,” the BoI report stated.

Efforts to contact the company’s CEO, Davendra Rampersaud, yesterday proved futile as calls to a mobile number rang out and the instrument was later turned off.

But last year he had defended the sole sourcing of five contracts awarded to him saying that his company was “not a fly by night company”.

“I want to at least clear the air as to what my company is about so that people understand. I don’t have time for the frivolous games with New GPC through Guyana Times,” he had told this newspaper last year.

In response to a Guyana Times article which chastised the company, Rampersaud said, ”I did a letter and sent to the ministry and the NPTAB (National Procurement and Tender Administration Board) because nothing in the article is true. I had one of my suppliers tell me ‘you know better, don’t take it on’. However, the negative impact it has had on my company is grand because persons who are supporters of the former government they called to say they will decrease their purchases from me because they didn’t know I was in tandem with the coalition and funding the coalition and these sort of things.”

“They (the report) said we were established in 2013, we have been (established) since 2011. We have been doing them for the last five years. We have been getting contracts for them but not just this big. …this is the first time we have been given what we deserve, freely and fairly and I guess they are upset about it. We have distribution letters from the manufacturers indicating that we are the local authorized distributors in Guyana,” he added.

Through single-sourcing, Cabinet had indeed then given the green light for six contracts for medical supplies. Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, who had briefed the press during a March 24th 2016 post-Cabinet Press Conference had pointed out that single-sourcing is done when the process of going out to tender would be too time consuming thus hampering delivery. Rampersaud told Stabroek News that because his company was a local authorized distributor for the reagents needed, he was asked by the Ministry of Health and the NPTAB to supply the reagents.

Thirty-four persons gave testimony during the month-long BOI and they include, former Country Manager of ANSA McAl Beverly Harper and other heads of pharmaceutical distributors and companies, Head of the NPTAB, Berkley Wickham, Head of the Guyana Food and Drug Department Marlan Cole, Minister of Health Dr George Norton and other staff of the ministry.

Meditron Inc

And the Sheriff Street-based Meditron Inc. was named as not honouring its contractual obligations for a tender that it was awarded. As such, the BOI recommended that the contract be brought to the attention of the Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams for a way forward on the matter.

“It is recommended that the contract signed between the Ministry of Public Health and Meditron Inc. dated …be brought to the attention of the honourable Minister of Legal Affairs, with a view of instituting legal proceedings since it was revealed that Meditron Inc. failed to honour their contractual obligation under the terms of this contract,” the report stated.

Andrew Debidin, Chairman of Meditron could not be reached for comment on a mobile number that is listed for him on the internet.

However, he had testified at the BOI that his company was over a two-year period “unjustifiably disqualified” by now dismissed Permanent Secretary Leslie Cadogan and Deputy Permanent Secretary Prakash Sookdeo. It was stated that his GRA compliance was in the name of a person and not a company.

The New GPC was named as the contract recipient which obtained 50% of the monies for a contract when it was only supposed to obtain a maximum of 30%. It is for the paying out of the monies, while Permanent Secretary Thomas was on vacation, which saw the BOI recommending the disciplining of his Deputy and the non-renewal of the contract for the Finance Manager.

Roonarine Ramcharitar, New GPC’s General Manager also testified at the BoI and he “voiced his displeasure”  that the new bidding system focused only on the lowest bid, when it came to the rental of a pharmaceutical bond.

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