Fast-tracked drug payments on hold

– as probe ongoing

Payments for the over $605 million in emergency drugs that were fast-tracked by Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence have been halted due to the investigation that is being undertaken by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) Board.

As a result, some companies that were contracted to supply the emergency drugs are worried that they could end up only breaking even or losing on the deal since the cost for the United States dollar has gone up.

One official, who did not want to be named, said that the company has no idea when the investigation would be completed and therefore its money is in limbo and it did not bode well for other financial transactions.

While officials for the companies contacted did not want to speak on record, sources at the GPHC explained that the drugs have been delivered although some are being stored at the companies, with delivery upon request.

Lawrence had requested that the GPHC Board conduct an investigation into the procurement process being used by the hospital.

Lawrence has come under fire for fast-tracking the purchase from ANSA McAL and other companies without the knowledge of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) and without compliance with procurement rules.

There are concerns by observers about the board, headed by Kesaundra Alves, conducting an investigation sanctioned by Lawrence to look into allegations concerning her.

Stabroek News contacted Alves last week for an update on the investigation and she informed that she was in a meeting but would return the call “as soon as the meeting is finished.”

However, despite several follow-up calls she could not be reached as calls to her mobile number went unanswered. It is unclear what stage the investigation is at, how long it will take and who are the persons the board would be speaking to.

The investigation is expected to provide details on the overall contract and will outline how ANSA McAL was awarded the bulk of the contract without the knowledge of the NPTAB.

The Public Procurement Commission (PPC) is also conducting a separate investigation of the drug purchase. One of its members told Stabroek News that “the inquiry continues” but could not say when it would be completed.

The PPC had late last month invited members of the public who had information pertaining to procurement matters at the GPHC and Ministry of Public Health to submit written statements to assist in the probe.

Chairperson Carol Corbin had said that she would be reviewing Lawrence’s fast-tracking of the over-$605 million emergency purchase of drugs for the GPHC in the wake of concerns that procurement procedures were breached.

The PPC had announced the investigation, in keeping with its functions as detailed in Article 212(AA). (1) of the Constitution. “In this regard, the Public Procurement Commission is in the process of collecting and reviewing relevant information from various stakeholders within the national procurement system and will conduct interviews and examine documentation as deemed necessary,” it said in a statement.

And since the subject of the investigation is of national interest and has resulted in significant public concern, according to the PPC, it will submit its findings to the National Assembly.

Lawrence has publicly said that she had no problem with the PPC carrying out its own investigation and that she welcomed the move since it was demonstrative of the transparency that her government not only champions but exhibits by its actions.

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Irfaan Ali has said that while the PPC’s report was welcomed, equally important would be  the Auditor General’s report, which will include purchases at the state medical facility and which can in turn help shape policies for the improvement of the sector.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic parliamentarians have also tabled questions in the National Assembly on the transactions.

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