A tangled web
When a member of a commission threatens to have the subject of investigation sue another member of the commission then something must be radically wrong with commissions in Guyana. This is not a hypothetical case. Last Monday, when the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly met to discuss expenditures by the Ministry of Health and by the Georgetown Public Hospital there were many questions about the policy of drug procurement.
At the centre of the drug procurement issue was the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation which enjoyed certain benefits, perhaps because of its size and the scope of its operations. Indeed, there are those who insist that any benefits New GPC may appear to enjoy springs from a special relationship between its owner, Dr Ranjisinghi Ramroop, and former president Bharrat Jagdeo.
Inside the Public Accounts Committee there were numerous questions because many things did not appear to be above board. Members resorted extensively to the reports by the Auditor General and to published reports about some of the drug procurement practices.
With a large bond due to the fact that New GPC is a drug manufacturer the decision was taken to have the company store the drugs it imported for the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital, in general, and by extension, the other health facilities.
It goes without saying that any importer must rely on that which it trusts to not only deliver in a timely manner, but must also be able to store in wholesome conditions. The New GPC satisfies this criterion. However, what caught the attention of the Public Accounts Committee must have been the fact that monies for all purchases were paid up front.
Then there was the fact that some of the drugs were not delivered, giving rise to the question of whether they were indeed imported. Surely, any questioning along these lines had to be legitimate. In the first instance, the money spent was public funds and secondly, people have a right to know since they are the taxpayers whose money goes toward funding these operations.
This episode exposes something that is common to governments—privacy. Governments all over the world have been known to share special arrangements with certain companies, sometimes because of lobbies. In Guyana this particular relationship appears to have come about because of the close ties the then president shared with the owner of the company.
There may have been no such consideration but any semblance of something special could be imagined if the head of state seems to be closely aligned to anyone, particularly if that person does business with the government. To prove that no one is enjoying any special privileges the entity must go the extra mile to satisfy all arrangements in a manner that could withstand public scrutiny.
The fact that there are so many questions about the arrangement between the government and the New GPC sends the signal that people are not happy with what has been prevented to them. High among the areas of dissatisfaction is the issue of drugs being paid for in full before the purchase is made. This is most unusual. It begs the question whether the government is actually funding the operations of the New GPC. This may sound almost treasonous but given Guyana and the society it is, nothing can be taken for granted.
It therefore behooves the government representatives attending the Public Accounts Committee forum to answer questions as honestly as possible. Yet one gets the impression that honesty is not at a premium at this Public Accounts Committee forum. Instead, there is the threat of legal action to stop further questioning.
There are many unanswered questions. For example, there have been disclosures about the rental paid for the storage. Before the Public Accounts Committee, the officials testified that the government paid for storage. This admission came in the wake of denials from the New GPC that it charged nothing; that it was storing the government drugs for free.
The situation brings to mind the quotation, “Oh what a tangled web we weave.”