CDC defends emergency procurement of COVID-19 supplies

– other findings from Auditor General special report also defended

The Civil Defence Commission (CDC), which was probed by the Audit Office of Guyana in an audit that flagged mismanagement of the distribution of COVID-19 supplies last year, has a defence for several of those findings.
Focusing on the period March to August 2020, the Audit Office has investigated the more than $1 billion spent by the Public Health Ministry and the CDC to buy COVID-19 equipment and supplies.
For instance, Auditor General Deodat Sharma had documented in his report that there is no provision in the Procurement Act of 2003 for emergency public procurement. According to the Auditor General, public tendering is mandatory.
Despite this, the Auditor General noted that 18 contracts valued at over $424 million were awarded by the Public Health Ministry and CDC, before approval was received form the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB).
However, it was explained by CDC Director General Kester Craig that as a matter of urgency, efforts were made to expedite the purchase of these items to meet the need for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), which arose due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In response to the findings at Section 24, as a matter of urgency, the CDC sought to expedite the purchase of these items to meet the need for PPE, which arose due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CDC recognises the need to pay strict adherence to all statutory regulations,” the CDC Director said in correspondence included in the report.
A similar explanation was forthcoming from the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, who explained to auditors that with reports of the coronavirus being contracted in humans and spreading rapidly from China to other neighbouring Caribbean countries at a fast rate, Guyana was put in a state of readiness before it could spread to Guyana.
“Subsequent to a meeting held in this regard, a list of equipment and medical supplies were put together to be procured immediately for the Georgetown Public Hospital in order for them to be prepared for such case. As such, the Ministry had its Procurement Department carry out a procurement process in order to ascertain which suppliers had these items readily available on ground to be delivered immediately,” they noted in the report.

CDC Director General Kester Craig’s correspondence to the Audit Office

Another finding was that hampers were continuously left at the entrance of homes, leaving them susceptible to theft. In the audit report, however, the Director General of the Civil Defence Commission explained that hampers were left at the entrance of homes to avoid close contact with persons. It was an explanation the auditors did not buy.
“The act of leaving the hampers at the entrance of homes left them open to theft, and the wrong persons might have received the hampers. Notwithstanding the explanation of the Director General, the Commission could have taken steps to have pictures taken of recipients removing the hampers from the entrances,” the Auditor General said in his report.
The Director explained that there was high scepticism among staff during the distribution. According to the Director General, however, appropriate steps will be taken going forward to ensure adherence to regulation.
“During the initial phase of the Civil Defence Commission COVID-19 response, high scepticisms were raised by staff, volunteers and partners about the level of contact and possible transmission of the virus which could have occurred if all individuals were required to sign upon receipt of a hamper.”
“As such, a decision was taken that the community distributions would be done under strict safety guidelines which included minimal contact with recipients by foregoing signature. The team leader for the distribution operations would have signed as receiving the hampers from the stores to be distributed to communities,” the Director General said.
Another finding was that the CDC could not explain how it chose persons to receive over 6000 food hampers valued at more than $124 million. The Audit Office commented that as a result of this, hampers could have gone to ineligible persons and organisations. According to the Audit Office, the CDC had no explanation for this.
“The Civil Defence Commission did not explain how they chose persons for hampers and hampers may have gone to ineligible persons Further, there was a lack of accountability for hampers distributed. This led us to conclude that COVID-19 supplies were not distributed in an efficient and transparent manner,” the Audit Office said.