In what would have come to many observers as something of a surprise the Ministry of Public Health, earlier this week, issued a media release seemingly pointing to a busy time ahead for the Ministry pertaining to what Minister Volda Lawrence strongly suggests has been a virus of fraud attempts to steal from the public treasury, occurring within her Ministry. Alarmingly, in the process of her disclosure, the Minister announced that staff should ready themselves to engage the police and audit officials in relation to what she is quoted as saying has been the “misappropriation of funds and the blatant attempts to steal” public funds.
Interestingly, the disclosure by the Minister, which, in the process, conjures up a generous measure of drama, comes, according to the statement, following a meeting with senior members of staff where, it seems, earlier announcements were made regarding her concerns. Truth be told, historically, talk of fraud, misdirection of funds and financial improprieties associated with the acquisition of drugs and other materiel associated with servicing the health system has never really strayed too far away from the Ministry of Public Health’s door, and that, it has to be said, is a situation that long predates the accession of the present administration to office. We have lived through years of repeated reports of rackets surrounding, particularly, the propriety associated with the acquisition of billions of dollars of drugs and medical equipment and once the present administration entered office it began to send aggressive signals that it intended to move to curb if not eradicate the practice.
How much progress it has made is questionable. The Ministry of Public Health has continued to attract public attention associated with accountability, among other things, and it is apposite to not that in the three plus years of the present administration, Public Health has been one of the high-profile ministries where ministerial and significant administrative changes have been made.
What has kept the Ministry of Public Health in the spotlight as far as the correctness of its accountability regime is concerned is the sheer volumes of public funds (relating particularly to the supply of drugs and medical equipment) that are sometimes mentioned when issues of accountability arise and the implications of the irregularities in the supply of drugs and equipment for the quality of service provided by the much-maligned state-run health system. As an aside one might mention as well what is widely suspected to be the irregularities associated with the failure by importers of food and drugs to stay within the Government Analyst Food and Drugs Department’s (GA&FDD) safety regulations.
It has to be said that the manner of the disclosure by the Public Health Minister regarding what she appears convinced is a concerted and calculated attempt to ‘rip off’ the public treasury is a trifle unusual insofar as it appears to paint with a broad brush, given the linking of the public disclosure to what we are told was a rather testy engagement with senior staff of the Ministry. All of this would appear to suggest that whatever may have been the situation with regard to irregularities in the Ministry prior to this week’s disclosure, the situation may have, relatively suddenly, revealed itself in an alarming way, forcing the Minister to act to deflect what, down the road, would have been further direct criticism of her own portfolio. Interestingly, she is vague if not altogether silent on exactly what she means by the charge attributed to her that members of staff are ‘”sabotaging the Ministry left, right and centre.”
What Minister Lawrence has done, seemingly with a fair measure of conviction, is to make serious and fairly direct charges of improper behaviour against members of the Ministry’s staff as well as issue a direct and open-mouthed pronouncement about the imminent involvement of the police and the Ministry of Finance’s auditing team. If on the one hand she may have been more than a trifle blunt and ‘up front’ on these issues, on the other, she has nudged the administration in a direction where, to turn away from her promised probe would be to open the entire administration to cover-up-type criticisms. Probes of improprieties of the nature alleged by the Minister have not been, historically, par for the course as far as official disclosures are concerned and now that the allegations have come directly out of the mouth of Minister Lawrence rather than from some known political critic of the administration, it would be interesting to see just what happens next.