GPHC procurement probe
… after tampered tendering led to drug shortage
A probe conducted by the Board of Directors of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) into the nearly $632 million emergency drug procurement expenditure earlier this year has found that former GPHC Chief Executive Officer (ag) Allan Johnson had acted recklessly when he signed off on the contracts for emergency supplies without going to tender. “The Board was shocked and disappointed to learn that GPHC had breached the (procurement) laws,” a statement from the hospital said on Friday. Following weeks of criticisms from stakeholders, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence had in March ordered the GPHC Board to investigate the circumstances surrounding the award of a $605 million contract to ANSA McAL to procure emergency drugs and supplies for the GPHC. The investigation ordered sought to determine if/how the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) had been involved in the process; how the shortlisted companies were evaluated; and whether all the drugs had been supplied by ANSA McAL on time, among other issues. It was reported earlier this year that the emergency contract was awarded to the Trinidad-based company after the hospital had found itself facing “critical drug shortage”, a situation that was created as a result of, among other reasons, a GPHC Finance Department staffer tampering with tender documents. “GPHC authorities cited reasons for the shortage, including the underestimation and late quantification of drugs; the annulment of a tender because a GPHC Finance Department employee had tampered with a tender document; and the failure of some local suppliers to honour their 2016 contracts,” the statement on Friday said.
In light of the shortage, several emergency meetings were held. On February 3, Minister Lawrence met with then CEO and senior staff of the Finance and Pharmacy Departments of GPHC, during which she instructed them to immediately devise a plan of action to alleviate the drug shortage as quickly as possible. To this end, the hospital staff reported to the Board that the minister requested that the hospital take into consideration Pan American Health Organisation’s (PAHO) emergency mechanism to supply pharmaceuticals, and also check with Materials Management Unit (MMU) of the Public Health Ministry to ascertain whether they had any of the required drugs in stock before a determination could be made about which drugs the hospital would need to procure from suppliers.
At a subsequent meeting that day, the Public Health Minister reportedly listened to a plan of action developed and presented by the GPHC Finance Director, which included determining availability of drugs from PAHO, MMU and local suppliers; obtaining quotations from suppliers; sending an evaluation report to the National Procurement and Tender Administration (NPTAB) for approval, then followed by the award of tender. However, it was found during the probe that the GPHC did not follow its stated plan of action. “The Procurement Act provides that any contract beyond the sum of $15 million must go through NPTAB, which then forwards it to Cabinet for review and approval. Former Acting Chief Executive Officer of GPHC, Mr Allan Johnson, wrote NPTAB seeking approval for the contracts after GPHC had begun to receive pharmaceuticals from the suppliers,” the Board said.
Moreover, none of the information received by the Board during the investigation revealed that Minister Lawrence had ever given instruction to GPHC officials to bypass any procurement procedures or laws. “The Board believes that the senior staff of the Finance Department had an ethical and professional duty to properly advise Mr Johnson, since this matter was within their realm of expertise. Mr Johnson had been known to trust and depend on his officers to do the right thing, and it is regrettable that they failed him in this instance. However, ultimately, the power was within Mr Johnson’s judgment and signature, and he acted recklessly”, the Board said.
The Board also said that it was unacceptable that when it held its first meeting, on February 22, after being installed, the now former CEO had failed to disclose this serious matter to the members.
The decision for the GPHC Board to probe the emergency drug procurement at the medical institution was heavily criticised by General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who had stated that the board could not impartially investigate the matter. He noted that such a probe should have been undertaken by the Auditor General’s Office or by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC). One week later, Chair of the PPC, Carol Corbin, announced that the Commission was probing the procurement of pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, specifically done by the GPHC. That probe is still ongoing, and the Board, management and staff of GPHC have said they have been fully cooperating with the Commission in its investigation.
“We wish to defer to the report of the PPC in relation to this matter, since that body has the remit and required expertise to conduct a thorough investigation. Further, the PPC has wider jurisdiction to interview all parties involved,” the Board said on Friday.