Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that he saw nothing wrong with a member of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) making public a dissenting view on the investigation of the $632 million in emergency drug purchases for the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH).
Jagdeo’s position came after the state-owned Guyana Chronicle reported that a minority report by PPC member Sukrishnalall Pasha is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly in addition to the report prepared by the PPC on the investigation.
“I have seen the Chronicle report that there are different views on the matter [and] I hope that we get copies soon. But I saw a strange view that there can’t be minority reports. In the [Caribbean Court of Justice] and at the Court of Appeal, you can have a minority report; a dissenting view. I don’t see anything special about this commission, if any member believes that the commission did not take their view seriously into consideration,” Jagdeo told a press conference yesterday.
The four-month-long investigation has been submitted to Parliament and Chairperson of the PPC Carol Corbin has confirmed that it found that the procurement laws had been broken. “As everyone noted, if the entity was supposed to go to the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board and they did not do that, then the law was broken. So, yes, it was found that laws were broken,” Corbin told this newspaper. “I would not want to go into the details of our recommendations because I would prefer that members of the National Assembly see the report before I comment. I don’t think it would be fair for me to discuss it and let all the details be in the media before they (members of the National Assembly) have had a chance to review it. The constitution says that we must submit a report to the National Assembly, so I would like them to see the report before I discuss it further,” she added.
Corbin had also explained that all five commissioners that make up the body swore to an oath of confidentiality when they took up the position and therefore it would be unlawful of them to discuss such works of the body. “We have all signed an oath of secrecy and we are the persons who conducted the evaluation and contributed to the completion of the report…,” she said, before adding that if anything about the report is leaked to anyone, it would have to come from a commissioner.
However, sources told Stabroek News that Pasha was not afforded the opportunity to sign the PPC report that was submitted to the National Assembly, although he led the investigative work and compiled the draft.
“He was the person responsible for the report and did all the work and submitted the draft to the Chairman and Commissioners. But it seems they had differing views on recommendations he made and he never saw the end product …he was not even given the opportunity to sign the thing…they sent it in without his signature,” a source said.
“So yes, there is a minority or dissenting report as you want to call it. But the reason he prepared a separate report—and it would not [have] even come to that if he had seen the report that was going to be submitted and it had all the data and information he submitted—was because he did work and did not know what was being submitted as his work,” the source added.
Questioned about the contents of the minority report, the source would only say that, “It is not what the Chronicle reported. There is no recommendation for the Minister [Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence] to be sanctioned or anything to do directly with her. It does conclude what is already known and that is laws were broken and that measures should be taken to correct that wrong.”
Jagdeo yesterday said that he believed that there must be “consequences” for the breaking of the laws but he did not state what they should be. “I would be watching these issues carefully. One thing the commission has said clearly was that there was a breach of our procurement law. This contract was given illegally and there has to be consequences. There has to be consequences,” Jagdeo said.
He noted that Pasha would have to submit his minority report to the National Assembly and he would only intervene if it is not accepted. “I can’t do it. He has to submit it to the Parliament too. This guy needs to go to the Parliament if he has a minority report. He has a duty to send it there. We will examine all of these. If the Parliament doesn’t want to take it, then we will look at it, but he has to submit it,” Jagdeo said.
The PPC’s investigation began after the controversial $632 million purchases were drawn to the public’s notice by Stabroek News in March of this year. Stabroek News had reported that the GPH had sought approval for an “emergency” purchase of $605.9 million in items from Trinidadian conglomerate ANSA McAl. It turned out that the purchase was not in compliance with the procurement law and that a number of items sought from ANSA could not be deemed emergency supplies. It was later revealed that three other “emergency” purchases were made by the GPHC, in breach of the procurement laws, from New GPC (to the value of $20.8 million), Health2000 ($2.9 million) and Chirosyn Discovery ($2.1 million).
Lawrence came under scrutiny after she disclosed that she had fast-tracked the acquisitions because of the need for supplies at the hospital and because of improprieties in the system. She later clarified that she had nothing to do with the actual procurement process.
The GPH has conducted its own probe of the matter at Lawrence’s behest and found that its former Chief Executive Officer, Allan Johnson, had acted “recklessly” in the matter but said that there was no information that Lawrence had instructed that procurement procedures be bypassed.
In the aftermath of the probes of the purchases, changes at the Ministry of Public Health and the GPH to ensure that the procurement laws are complied with in the future had been announced.