The Public Procurement Commission (PPC) will review Health Minister Volda Lawrence’s emergency purchase of drugs for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) in the wake of concerns that procurement procedures were breached.
“We are going to conduct a review of the process so that we can ascertain what has happened and if the procedures have been followed,” Chairperson of the PPC Carol Corbin told Stabroek News yesterday.
Lawrence has come under fire for “fast-tracking” the $605M drug purchase from ANSA McAL and others without the knowledge of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) and without compliance with procurement rules.
She also has not stated if Cabinet was aware of the contract before the matter was highlighted in the press.
On Saturday, she defended her decision, while saying that there was a critical drug shortage, which she blamed on a conspiracy between contractors and ministry staff.
She said that the public procurement process was not breached, although the national tender board was not aware of the decision until its approval was sought after the transaction.
The minister informed also that three other companies received contracts.
No explanation was provided for why approval from the NPTAB was only sought after the fact rather than have it manage the process, in keeping with its statutory responsibility.
Chairman of the NPTAB, Berkley Wickham told Stabroek News last Thursday that he had not seen the contract or approved the sum and when a letter came to him to approve $605M for ANSA McAL he immediately notified the minister.
Corbin confirmed that the issue was discussed at yesterday’s PPC meeting and the decision taken to formally seek answers from the GPHC on the contract, as the PPC was not aware of the contract and it was only through the press that it learned of it. “We know nothing about the contract. We are not aware of it because the process is not that the contract would come to us. I don’t even know if there is a contract. We have to do a review of the whole process,” she stressed.
Lawrence has said that ANSA McAL is among four companies from which emergency supplies were sought; the New GPC, the Eccles, East Bank Demerara-based Health 2000 and Canadian entity Chirosyn Discovery were the others.
However, Lawrence did not state the respective amounts for these companies.
Stabroek News reached out to the other three companies for comment but only Health 2000 immediately responded.
The New GPC’s Company Secretary Zulficar Ally requested that the questions be forwarded by email and promised to reply. Up to press time, he had not done so despite numerous calls to his mobile and office numbers.
Health 2000, located in the compound of the Digicel Warehouse at Lot 50 DD, Industrial Site, Eccles, confirmed that it had been called in by the GPHC and told of the need for the emergency supplies for drugs.
Manager of the company, Malika Persaud, told Stabroek News in an interview that her company along with others present at the meeting had bid for a medical supply of drugs contract that was opened at NPTAB on February 14th this year. She said that there was also a tender for the emergency supply of drugs.
However, that day, the tenders opened were for medical supplies to the GPHC for the year 2018 and the supply of pharmaceuticals for 2018, respectively.
It is not clear if the NPTAB has concluded its evaluation process for those bids but to date no announcement has been made by government on the awards.
The Health 2000 Manager said that prior to that bid, her company was called to meetings with the GPHC in January and February of this year but could not remember the specific dates. They and the other companies were told that there was an urgent need for medical supplies at the GPHC due to shortages. “…We were informed that due to the process before, because the tender should have been opened in December, due to that process being compromised—it was more or less scrapped. So we had to retender and it was a tender that was opened on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2017 and there was a broader tender which was opened on the 14th,” she related.
She said that her company was notified of what it would supply but she would not give the contract amount. “I prefer not to get into that aspect of it. I am sorry I can’t give you amounts. I am supposed to meet with GPHC this week and then I’ll have a better idea because there are certain items that are not clear to me at this point. There is a few things we need to clarify from our end,” Persaud added.
The Health 2000 Manager lamented that prior to last year, her company had not received a single contract from the Ministry of Health and it was “sidelined” in the highly controversial drug supply prequalification process in 2014. That process had seen only the New GPC being qualified, which resulted in the lion’s share of the Ministry of Health and GPHC pharmaceutical contracts, totaling billions, going to it.
Health 2000 was established in 2009 and distributes the Canadian Health 2000 brand of pharmaceuticals. Persaud said that it was only awarded “very, very small contracts” and often only when other companies were lagging behind in meeting their supplies.
“We provide sugar (diabetes) drugs, hypertensive drugs, pain killers… we distribute Health 2000 brand and are able to meet most demands but we were never given the opportunity. We have proved our self with the smaller contracts and have never had a problem meeting the deadlines or requirements given, you can check for yourself,” she added.
Meanwhile, former Chairman of the GPHC Board Dr Carl Max Hanoman weighed in on the contract award and noted that there has been a longstanding shortage of drugs at the GPHC that was created by suppliers in collusion with persons at the hospital who “fixed” the transactions.
He said with the reported shortages, certain companies would be called in to supply emergency items.
Hanoman explained that it was here the system gets manipulated because then companies usually mark up their prices. “I said there was a shortage and Norton [former Minister of Health Dr. George Norton] said there was not. I said not only shortages there was terrible mismanagement; he did not like it. He wanted you to say what he wanted you to say but not me. The stuff is purchased through line items not tender…they all know what it is…it is a racket. Ask about the kidney fluids, for the dialysis and how much they paid for it. That is why the tenders were not passed when I was there. It is a racket. The whole hospital is a racket and they are bleeding the nation,” a distressed Hanoman stated.
He said that he mentioned it to Norton but to no avail. “They create the shortages and go out and give their friends the contracts… I went to the GPHC with the intention of doing things for the people and I started,” he added.
Hanoman directed this newspaper to speak with staff in both the administration section of the GPHC as well as doctors and nurses on ward.
One source complained about the recruiting of a person who deals with day to day financial management at the GPHC and noted that there was no interview and the person was handpicked.
Another source explained that doctors at the GPHC that have private practices not only see patients at the hospital but then refer them to their practice. It was alleged that some of these doctors also take medication from the hospital for use at their private practices.
Asked about cold storage, since Minister of Health Lawrence boasted about ANSA McAl’s donation of refrigerators to the GPHC, one administrator said that the controversial Sussex Street Bond was to be equipped with cold storage for the GPHC and other public facilities. “That is a conflict of interest in itself and the Minister should not be saying it as if it was a requirement for getting the contract. If they donated it then so be it. Let them boast about it because perception is something else and she has to know that Guyanese, so accustomed to corrupt practices, can quickly deduce. We are not a stupid people and it comes across as if that company now has an edge on contracts because it gave cold storage,” the official said. “Everyone has cold storage don’t worry with all that fluff,” another GPHC official added.