The National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) did not grant approval for the single sourcing of nearly $632 million in emergency drug purchases for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Minister of Finance Winston Jordan yesterday made clear.
Jordan made the disclosure in written answers to the National Assembly on a number of questions posed by opposition PPP/C Member of Parliament Juan Edghill on the procurement of drugs for the GPHC and the Ministry of Public Health from January, 2016, to the end of April this year.
He was also asked to state if any requests were made by the GPHC and the Ministry of Public Health for the waiver of procedures for the procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for the period stated and to provide same to the National Assembly, including the grounds for each request.
Jordan, in response, explained that while there were requests from both GPHC and the Ministry of Public to the NPTAB for waivers for their respective procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, NPTAB procedures were not waived. Instead, he explained that the NPTAB would take into account the most appropriate method of procurement, as prescribed under the Procurement Act, applying/recommending in the first instance open tendering, which is mandatory.
“The other methods are used when the appropriate conditions apply. Examples are, as follows: in the case of restricted tendering, where the goods are of a highly complex nature and available from a limited number of suppliers, those suppliers are invited to submit tenders; or if the estimated cost is within the threshold allowed under the regulations (G$3,000,000 in the case of goods and services and G$10,000,000, in the case of works),” he added while pointing out that there is a request for quotations if the procurement does not exceed the allowable limit of $1.5 million.
But in the case of an emergency, or in order to avoid a catastrophic event, where there is an urgent need for the goods and services and it is impractical to use methods of procurement, such as open tendering and restricted tendering, where time is of importance, a request for single sourcing may be granted, Jordan noted.
However, he pointed out that it was “subject to a case being made, with the endorsement of the competent authority (eg. The Head of the Budget Agency or the Board, as in the case of the George-town Public Hospital Corporation).”
Jordan then listed eighteen times between January 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017, where requests were made by the GPHC for the waiver of the Tender Board procedure for procurement.
Thirteen requests totaling $103,642,190 saw the shopping method of procurement implemented, while one for $10,860,000 was single sourced using Section 28 A of the Procurement Act. The Minister of Finance explained that $10.8 million single sourced contract was awarded to Ansa McAL Trading to supply drugs to treat cancer patients since it was urgent as the hospital was out of stock.
However, the NPTAB did not approve four contracts, totaling $631,913,655, for the supply of emergency drugs, which GPHC said was single sourced under Section 28 C of the Procurement Act. The breakdown of awardees and the sums are Heath 2000, $2,923,900; New GPC Inc., $20,888,610; Chirosyn Discovery, $2,138,925; and Ansa McAL, $605,962,200.
The document explained that “the items were required urgently and it was impractical to use the open or restricted method of procurement, due to the time required to utilize those methods of procurement.”
Chairman of the NPTAB Berkley Wickham had previously told Stabroek News that the procurement body was unaware of the procurement and did not approve them.
The drugs were single sourced unknown to NPTAB and then a letter was sent to Wickham after the awards asking for his agency’s approval. “I have not approved any money because I cannot (do it) just like that. I saw the letter and I said what craziness is this because that is not how it is done. Someone can’t just send a letter to me to approve six hundred and something million dollars, so I notified [Public Health] Minister [Volda] Lawrence,” he had said.
Lawrence has come under fire for saying that she fast tracked the purchases.
The purchases, which were drawn to the public’s notice by Stabroek News in March, have raised questions about the APNU+AFC government’s commitment to abiding by the procurement laws and the role of one of its senior ministers in the debacle. The transaction is also seen as a major test of the independence of the fledgling Public Procurement Commis-sion (PPC), which is intended to ensure procurement probity after years of questionable transactions, particularly in the health sector.
Two probes are currently ongoing; one by the PPC and the other by the GPHC Board. The latter investigation was ordered by Lawrence following public criticism of the awards.
There has been no word from the GPHC on its probe and efforts to contact its Chairperson Kesaundra Alves have been futile. Her office is located in compound of the maternity wing of the GPHC and on every occasion Stabroek News visits it has been told that she was not available.
PPC Chairperson Carol Corbin has said that her commission continues to work on its report and it was expected to be completed “shortly.”
Late last month, Lawrence appeared before the PPC to answer questions on the purchases. She was the last of the persons questioned by the Commission for its investigation.
Sources told this newspaper that Lawrence refuted a press release sent out by her ministry back in March of this year, which had credited her for “fast tracking” the process and blamed a conspiracy among drug suppliers and ministry staff for the crisis in the sector.
“After meeting with public health officials around the country and at GPHC, the Honourable Minister was compelled in the interest of the health of the people of Guyana, to ensure that an adequate supply of drugs were immediately available in the country to meet the current crisis,” the statement had said.
“To this end, she sought to fast track the procurement of these pharmaceuticals to minimise the negative effects on patients due to the shortage of some critical drugs. This influenced the decision to seek the greenlight from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for ANSA McAL to supply drugs and pharmaceuticals to the tune of some $605 million,” it added.
Meanwhile, PPP/C Member of Parlia-ment Colin Croal also sought answers from Jordan on if there were any requests made to NPTAB from the ten administrative regions for the granting of any waiver of NPTAB procedures.
However, Jordan replied in the negative, saying that “no request was made the ten administrative regions for the waiver of tender board procedures for the procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for the period January 1st 2016 to April 30th 2017.”