Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence yesterday once again defended the integrity of the award of a $367 million contract for emergency drugs to New York-based HDM Labs Inc. last year, saying all the necessary procedures were followed but failing to account for the ministry’s dealings with the company in the months before.
“Mr. Speaker, I wish to state that according to NPTAB [the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board], all the relevant procedures were followed by the Ministry of Public Health in accordance with the Procurement Act of 2003,” Lawrence told the House as she read from a prepared statement yesterday.
Although Lawrence on Tuesday had promised a fuller explanation of the contract award, her statement to the National Assembly did offer additional details. In fact, Lawrence excluded a number of developments that preceded the award of the contract. She did, however, mention that only three companies (which did not include HDM Labs Inc.) bid during the initial restrictive tendering process and not six as she had stated on Tuesday.
A partial timeline of events, as seen from documents provided to the Stabroek News from both the Ministry of Public Health and from sources, follows:
Lawrence told the National Assembly yesterday that all procedures were followed and she gave a timeline of the developments, while cautioning persons to not sensationalise the issue.
She reported that on April 28th, 2018, a request for restricted tendering was made to the NPTAB for the procurement of emergency pharmaceutical supplies from the Ansa McAL, IPA, Global Healthcare Supplies Inc., CMS, Meditron Inc., and HDM Labs Inc. Tenders were subsequently opened on May 23rd, 2017, she noted, and only three bids were received. However, she said on June 19th, 2017 the NPTAB recommended that no award be made to any of the three bids as all bidders had failed to meet all the evaluation criteria at the preliminary stage.
On June 29th, 2017, Lawrence said, the Ministry of Public Health sought permission from NPTAB and restricted tendering for the retender was approved on June 30th, 2017. As a result, all six companies were then asked by email, on July 12th, 2017, to resubmit and only one company, HDM Labs Inc. responded when bids were opened on July 18th 2017. “On August 16th 2017, the evaluation report for retender was received by NPTAB with recommendation that the sole winner be awarded with the contract. Mr. Speaker I wish to emphasize that NPTAB recommended that the contract be awarded to the sole winner HDM Labs,” she said. “I wish to remind this Honourable House that in 2017, it was under this government that the procurement department [of the] Ministry of Public Health was established to ensure that there was segregation of duties, transparency and accountability in the procurement of items and services for the Ministry of public Health while ensuring that the ministry followed and adhered to the regulations and procedures stipulated by law,” she said.
While Lawrence and Adams have said that the six companies were invited to participate in the second restricted tendering process, a representative of one of the companies has said it was unaware of the invitation.
The Public Health Minister yesterday pointed out that her ministry is “happy for the demonstration of interest and the monitoring of the system” and that it welcomes persons’ rights to do so. However, she said that she would appreciate that the monitoring be done “in a sensible and appropriate manner” and without “sensationalisation.”
On Tuesday, the minister had questioned the motive behind the timing of recent reports on the award and alluded to the impending elections for PNCR Chairmanship, which she is contesting.