Gov’t played no role in $605m purchase – GPHC Chairman

-cites likely hoarding of medication

Government played no role in the actual procurement of the over-$605M emergency drugs for the GPHC, its Chairman, Kesaundra Alves says, adding that the large amount of drugs that was urgently needed was because of patients likely hoarding medication, among other things.

In addition to drug hoarding, Alves says other contributing factors stemmed from document tampering in the finance department and GPHC assisting other hospitals and regions with drugs to meet their shortages.

“The government played no role in that procurement. That was the Georgetown Public Hospital… so no government involvement in that process”, Alves told the press last week.

Kesaundra Alves

“Yes, we have issues with quantification, underestimation (and) late quantification. We actually had a tender that had to be pulled because the documents were tampered with in the finance department. We have a lot of that happening in finance. So we had to throw that out which delayed the drugs even more. And then there are some things we don’t have control of. For example, we have all these health centres and people could go. If they go to one health centre and collect medications we can’t stop them from going to another one, because there is no way to go on a computer and say ‘oh we already gave them their supply of medication for the month’ so, you may have people hoarding medications,” she added.

Both the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) Board and the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) are still working on their respective investigations into the procurement of the over $605M emergency supplies of drugs in March for the GPHC which did not comply with the procurement law.

Volda Lawrence

Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence’s acknowledgement that she `fast-tracked’ the purchase from Trinidad conglomerate ANSA McAl along with three smaller acquisitions, prompted public consternation and calls for an inquiry into the matter.

Lawrence, herself, asked for the board of the GPHC to investigate the circumstances behind the purchase. Lawrence in her defence has said that while she `fast-tracked’ the purchases because of the emergency needs of the GPHC, she didn’t have anything to do with the actual procurement.

‘Concerns’

Alves told reporters, when asked on Wednesday for an update, that she understands that the PPC was still working on its probe but did not give a timeframe for the completion of her Board’s inquiry. Instead, she noted, “It is something that we are looking into and you will hear from us on that.”

While she would not say when the GPHC Board’s investigations would be completed, Alves expanded on the many reasons why a $605m purchase was needed and said that the dollar figure amount raised eyebrows at the Board’s level also.

“What concerns the board was that we ended up in a situation where we needed to procure such a large amount of drugs on an emergency basis; so we asked why. We did throw that out to the staff at the GPHC,” she stated.

The GPHC Chairman said that the board has learned that the hospital also “lends medication to the regions” when there are shortages there and that the problem with shortages was the main reason for the large purchase.

“We also lend medication to the regions. If they say they don’t have we give them. They do not fall under the GPHC but you can’t deny people medication. So while quantification is a problem there are issues at other hospitals that affect us too. We don’t have a computerized system to track what patients are getting so it is bigger than just quantification. So that is an issue,” Alves asserted.

“These quantification issues have been in the media since last year. So we know there had been shortages and it came to a head this year and we found ourselves in this situation with what you call the 605,” she added.

Alves said that all of the drugs were delivered as checks with the hospital’s procurement department revealed so.

Meanwhile, as the PPC continues its own investigations, sources told this newspaper that the public feedback it sought has been poor but the procurement regulatory body is forging ahead with its work.

“We did not get the amount of persons we thought we would get but yes, we are continuing our work,” a source close to the investigation told Stabroek News last week.

The PPC, had late last March 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.

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.

But former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran has said that the move to publicly advertise for contributors to the investigation was a weak move.

“I am aware that the Commission is looking into the $605 million contract for drugs and medical supplies for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. It has asked persons to come forward and give evidence, but from media reports the response has been disappointing,” Goolsarran said.

“Regrettably, the Commission has adopted a minimalistic approach to the investigation, or if you will, one of least line of resistance. It should have stepped down and undertaken the investigation on its own, with the help of experts as it considers necessary. One hopes that the Commission will reset its approach to the investigation to ensure compliance with the constitutional requirements,” Goolsarran added.

He believes that with the powers vested in the PPC, as provided for by Article 212 AA of the Constitution, which gives the Commission power to investigate cases of irregularity and mismanagement, and propose remedial action, more should be done.

That is, that the Commission should enlist the aid of other procurement specialists and summon those from the respective procurement departments, as may be necessary, to assist it with expert advice, he asserted.

If laws are broken he says that the law provides for the PPC to refer such matters to the police and the Auditor General as the case may be.

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