The Public Procurement Commission’s (PPC) investigation into the over $632M emergency drug purchase by the GPHC has been completed and the report will be handed over to the National Assembly before it goes into recess on August 11th , 2017, PPC Chairman Carol Corbin says.
Expected to be revealed in the report was that the purchase indeed breached the Procurement Act and was thus illegal from its inception, sources say.
“We are set to complete shortly…we expect to submit to parliament at least before they go to recess,” Corbin told this newspaper when contacted on Wednesday.
On Friday, the board of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) released the findings of its own report into the matter which said that its former Chief Executive Officer, Allan Johnson had acted “recklessly” in the matter. It however added that there was no information that Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence had instructed that procurement procedures be bypassed.
The purchase, which was drawn to the public’s notice by Stabroek News in March, 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 PPC, which is intended to ensure procurement probity after years of questionable transactions particularly in the health sector.
A source close to the PPC last week said that the investigation was not about the minister’s role but to determine the weaknesses in the procurement system and urgently address it.
“Understand that there is no recommendation to sanction the minister or anything like that, that was not what this investigation was about. It did not deal specifically with a person but in identifying the weaknesses or breaches you could see who was doing what and it would be up to the relevant authorities to address that,” the source said.
“The probe found that there are many systems that need urgent addressing…one of them is the cutting down of these emergency purchases for starters and we as the PPC now have to ensure that those loopholes are corrected, so to speak,” the source added.
Speaking on the emergency purchases, another source close to the PPC said that through this medium of purchase for drugs, it was the taxpayers who ended up losing since more monies now have to be spent for transport fees.
“We understand that millions, and we are talking in the hundreds of millions, is spent annually on just getting the drugs here because it has to come by plane in emergency circumstances…that money…could be spent in another area or on more drugs so we have to find a way where the purchases are done through the normal procurement channels and not as emergency…we are wasting too much of the taxpayers’ money,” the source stressed.
The source said that the report was “thorough and would address all those questions that you want answers to.”
Stabroek News understands that all of the commissioners have made their input into the report and Corbin as Commissioner was “putting together the final report”.
A number of drug suppliers, including the four who were granted the emergency awards, and Minister Lawrence were questioned during the more than four-month-long probe by the PPC. Some persons submitted written reports and this newspaper understands that the Inter-national Pharmaceutical Agency’s representative used the investigation to voice its disquiet over not only the $632M purchases but general procurement systems at both the GPHC and the Ministry of Public Health.
Questions asked earlier this month in parliament by the opposition and responded to by Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, also formed part of the PPC report.
It was then that Jordan made clear that the NPTAB did not grant approval for the single-sourcing of the $632 million in emergency drug purchases for the GPHC.
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 Health 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 (e.g. The Head of the Budget Agency or the Board, as in the case of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation).”
However, the NPTAB did not approve four contracts, totaling $631,913,655, for the supply of the emergency drugs, which GPHC said was single-sourced under Section 28 C of the Procurement Act. The breakdown of awardees and the respective sums are as follows: Health 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.