FASTER THAN SPEEDY GONZALES
On Wednesday, this newspaper reported the Minister of Health as indicating that a probe team was being assembled to investigate the purchase of drugs (medicines) as well as the overall policies guiding such purchases.
This declaration followed reports in this newspaper about the prices that were being paid by the government for medicines procured under a billion-dollar contract with a local pharmaceutical firm.
By Wednesday, not only was the probe team assembled, but amazingly the probe itself had been completed and the Minister was able to make the findings public.
This must be something of a record. Never before has a probe been completed in such rapid time, just under one day. That is all the time it took for the Ministry of Health to assemble a team and conduct a probe into the prices paid for the medicines procured by the government.
What sort of probe was that? Here it is that the Ministry was ordering a wide range of medicines under this contract and within a day the Ministry of Health could have put together a probe team, conducted the probe and pronounced on its findings. That is faster than Speedy Gonzales!
The government should consider sending the probe team to the Olympics. They may bring back gold and deny Usain Bolt a repeat of his record-breaking performance four years ago in Beijing.
Interestingly, the probe team found that the Kaieteur News was correct in respect to the price paid for the purchase of an itch cream but was strangely off mark, way off mark, in respect to other prices which it has quoted.
So who is to be believed? Is it Kaieteur News or is it the findings of the probe team put together by the Ministry of Health?
Why should the ministry be believed when it has not provided to the media a total breakdown of the constituent prices for the contract? Why would Kaieteur News be right about one set of prices and wrong about the four or five others that it revealed?
The ministry is claiming that Kaieteur News is wrong. But what of the other prices which were part of the package? Did the ministry go through all these prices?
What was the scope of this probe? Why was it hurried? Why was it only concerned with disputing the prices this newspaper reported on? How could the probe have researched and validated the market prices charged for hundreds of medicines so quickly and compared these to the prices being paid for these drugs by the government?
Was this a value- for-money probe? Or was this a probe dedicated solely to discrediting the facts as put out by Kaieteur News?
Even more interesting was when this newspaper first began to report on this issue, the company which supplied the medicines never disputed the prices quoted. It never said that the prices reported by Kaieteur News were wrong.
Even when the company called for the Auditor General to conduct a value-for-money audit it did not dispute the prices. In fact, at one stage the defence was offered that the company sells medicines and anyone was free to buy.
The government, too, when it first issued a reaction to the reports, did not dispute the prices. It merely said that the goods were purchased as part of a total package. Only now we are learning after a quicksilver speed probe that there were problems with the prices that Kaieteur News reported.
The report of that probe by the Ministry of Health is not going to satisfy the public at large. The probe was too short to constitute a credible value- for- money probe, which was what the company was asking for.
There is even now a great need for a wide-ranging, detailed and independent probe of this contract so that all the facts can be laid bare and to the satisfaction of the public.
Since the government has already done its probe and is disputing all but one of the prices that this newspaper indicated was being paid for medicines, then it should not have any fears or worry about a more comprehensive value- for–money investigation.
The government in fact should be overjoyed to be presented with the opportunity to prove Kaieteur News wrong through an independent probe of all aspects of this contract.
What is there for the government to lose? Its own in-house probe has established in its mind a verdict concerning the reports by this newspaper. Therefore what is there to lose by the government showing that it was right all along, by having an independent probe of this tender?