Health Minister’s pharmaceutical probe a joke – APNU
- party wants independent Commission of Inquiry
By Latoya Giles
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s Shadow Minister of Health, Dr. George Norton, has described Minister Bheri Ramsaran’s announcement of a probe into the procurement and purchase of drugs by the government for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) as a “joke”, adding that his party will be presenting a motion to the National Assembly calling for the immediate formation for a Commission of Inquiry into how the administration purchases pharmaceuticals.
Norton expressed this notion yesterday afternoon at the party’s weekly press briefing.
“Given the gravity of the situation, A Partnership for National Unity will take a motion to the National Assembly to have President Donald Ramotar urgently put in place an independent Commission of Inquiry with full investigatory power,” Norton told the media.
This motion is likely to be supported by the Alliance For Change, as its chairman Khemraj Ramjattan has essentially signaled same.
Norton said that over the last two decades the nation has watched in dismay as the PPP/C Government increasingly enabled and allowed corrupt practices by unscrupulous businessmen and cuddled criminal elements. He said that as a consequence, corruption in Guyana has become endemic.
“The level of corruption has now surpassed the usual greed and graft and now directly threatens the health and well-being of the people of Guyana,” Norton stated emphatically.
The APNU MP said that any even-minded person would find it rather strange that only days after the Kaieteur News had several headlines about the purchase of drugs, the Health Minister comes out and says that nothing is wrong with the pharmaceutical purchases.
According to Norton, as far back as 2005, the late former PNCR Shadow Finance Minister of the PNC, Mr. Winston Murray, was making repeated calls for the purchase of drugs by the Government to be done in accordance with the procedures established by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), through open tendering, and for Government to stop the use of a Cabinet Order for the purchase of pharmaceuticals.
However his calls went ignored by the then Jagdeo administration, which continued its abuse of this process by moving to the short-listing of companies in a manner which did not follow the Tender Administration Procurement (TAP) Act.
Norton said that during the 9th Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had questioned the government’s Procurement Officer about the mechanisms in place to cross-check the prices proffered by the suppliers and was told that there were sites which were available for cross-referencing. The PAC later advised that the Procurement Officer and the Permanent Secretary do so, given the increasing number of complaints that Government was purchasing drugs far above the primary costs.
Norton further stated that over the past days, the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation has come under fire, for selling to the government pharmaceutical products at exorbitant prices.
“The banner headline of one of the daily independent newspaper screamed; Government pays $18,000 for $2,000 “pressure tablets” What is apposite to note here is that the New GPC and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation have defended the purchases saying that the prices paid were okay. How can it be okay for the people of Guyana to pay $8,000 for an injection that costs $600? How can it be okay for the people of Guyana to pay $ 1,800 for one Atenolol (tablet) when the same tablet can be bought at a local pharmacy for $ 600 (a 300% difference)? How can it be okay when the taxpayers of this country must pay $18,000 for something that cost a mere $2,000? How can it be okay for us to pay $1,909 for a tube of fungicide cream that retails for only $80? What must we make of a company that sells us a contraceptive pill that costs $600 and a government that thinks it’s okay to buy that pill for $8,000? This is not commerce, this is corruption”.
Norton said that the evidence seems quite clear that the GPHC is engaging in seemingly shady procurement practices that have caused Health Minister Dr. Bheri Ramsaran to launch a probe into local drug purchases. However, Norton said, “it is way too little and too late… even though we welcome the Minister’s voice to the debate”.
The track record of the PPP in government does not instill confidence when it comes to corruption and investigating corruption, Norton said. He added that this was highlighted even more as former speaker of the National Assembly and PPP executive member, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, recently asserted that corruption had become a monstrosity under the PPP/C government.
“After twenty years of mismanagement by the PPP regime that has created economic hardship, failed or failing institutions, an unreliable criminal justice system, as well as racial fractures, the PPP/C Administration continues to exhibit no evidence of strong political will to tackle corruption.
When consideration is given to the distinct possibility that “bogus” drugs, from questionable suppliers, may have entered our supply chain, then this now becomes a serious public health crisis that demands a response that must meet the highest level of credibility so that the public can be reassured that their health and well being is not compromised because of a few greedy men and women.”
APNU’s Volda Lawrence urged that the minister’s findings be published and tabled in the National Assembly.