Procurement Commission launches probe into pharmaceutical contracts

GPHC’s sole sourcing

Amidst widespread public criticism over the award of a $605 million contract to a foreign company for the supply of “emergency” pharmaceuticals for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) on Thursday announced that it has launched an investigation into the matter.

PPC Chairperson Carol Corbin

According to a statement from Chair of the PPC, Carol Corbin, the Commission is probing the procurement of pharmaceutical and other medical supplies, specifically by the GPHC, in keeping with its functions as detailed in Article 212 (AA) (1) of the Constitution.
“In this regard, the Public Procurement Commission is in the process of collecting and reviewing relevant information from various stakeholders within the national procurement system, and will conduct interviews and examine documentation as deemed necessary,” the Chairperson stated.
She continued: the PPC is committed to a completely transparent and objective investigation, and as such, is inviting members of the public who may have pertinent information to make written submissions addressed to the Chairperson of the Public Procurement Commission at Parliament Office, Parliament Buildings. These submissions will have to be made by April 12, 2017.
Corbin added that since the subject of the investigation is of national interest and has resulted in significant public concern, the Commission will submit its findings to the National Assembly.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Parliamentary Opposition tabling a list of questions in the National Assembly on the procurement of drugs and medical supplies within the public health system. The questions were posed by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Parliamentarian Juan Edghill.
According to Teixeira, at a press conference on Wednesday, the Opposition is not satisfied with the answers given by Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence on the recent emergency procurement for the GPHC. It thinks that such a move is in violation of the Procurement Act and the financial rules and regulations of the country.

Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence

“As a former Chairperson (of) the Public Accounts Committee and a member of that body up to today, spanning over 10 years, she is very knowledgeable, and knows what she did was not allowed. We believe that the $605 million for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies without a tendering process and on the grounds of emergency needs merely hides a bigger scandal,” the Opposition Chief Whip posited.
The questions directed to Minister Lawrence were based on: the procurement of drugs and medical supplies for the Ministry of Public Health; the procurement of drugs and medical supplies for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), and safeguarding the nation’s health and protecting the public purse.
According to the document released to the media by the Opposition, the first set of questions seeks to ascertain the total sum expended for drugs and medical supplies for the Ministry of Public Health and GPHC between January 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017. It also enquired about the percentage of the allocation in the 2016 Budget for drugs and medical supplies that were expended by December 31, 2016; and what percentage, if any, of the money unspent, was returned to the Consolidated Fund. The Minister is also being asked for the reasons for the underperformance in the procurement process within the public health system.
“Could the Honourable Minister provide the following information to the National Assembly: The name of each supplier; the value of each contract, and date of award; the name of the supplier/s who failed to deliver within the stipulated contractual period, and by what amount; (and) the name of the supplier who delivered inferior/substandard drugs and medical supplies?
“Could the Honourable Minister state in each case of procurement: Whether these tenders were publically advertised; if so, when and where? And if any of these awardees were pre-qualified? And in each case of the above, which body of the Ministry of Public Health and the GPHC was responsible for evaluating and recommending the award of these contracts?”
Moreover, the Opposition wants Minister Lawrence to provide information of the number and names of any contracted suppliers who delivered drugs and medical supplies that were expired, were close to being expired, and/or are of an inferior quality between January 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017; as well as name the specific drug and/or medical supply and the dollar value in each case.
“Could the Honourable Minister state if she has information that any employee(s) of the Ministry of Public Health, and in particular the Materials Management Unit, and /or the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, has/have been complicit with contractors/suppliers of pharmaceutical and medical supplies in defrauding the state? And, if so, state what actions have been taken to investigate these allegations; (and) state whether the Office of the Auditor General and/or the Guyana Police Force (has/have) been called in to investigate these allegations?”
Defending her decision to “fast track” the $605 million purchase of emergency medical supplies, the Public Health Minister had stated that many of the suppliers did not meet their contractual obligations. She added, too, that the police were investigating allegations of fraud pertaining to procurement in the Ministry.
Furthermore, the Opposition wants to know whether the “unusual decision” to relocate her ministerial office to the Diamond Drug Bond on the East Bank of Demerara has provided the opportunity for the Minister to take a more hands-on approach to the procurement of drugs and medical supplies for the public health system.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Edghill said the party is looking to have full disclosure of information on the questions that were raised. “At the National Assembly is where the Opposition holds the Government accountable, and we hope that the excuse that you can’t name names isn’t used in the answer to this question; because if the minister is saying that people are complicit who provided insider-traded information, who connived with suppliers to defraud the state, we must be able to get clearance on this, or she will just be seeking to blow hot air to cover her own tracks,” he said.
According to the Opposition MP, this move is to ensure that transparency, accountability and good governance are upheld in the procurement process within the country.
Edghill and Teixeira also posed questions to Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan on the procurement of drugs and medical supply from the Budgets of the 10 Administrative Regions. (Vahnu Manikchand)