Jun 12, 2012 News
Probe needed into all drug supply contracts – APNU’s Dr George Norton
The government needs to come clean; it needs to explain how it decides on drug supply contracts that have largely favoured the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (New GPC), says Dr George Norton.
“The situation needs to be brought out in the open,” Dr Norton, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Member of Parliament told Kaieteur News.
APNU is the country’s main opposition party, and Dr Norton is responsible for health issues from the opposition benches in the National Assembly.
He said that for years now, the opposition has argued that there is not a level playing field in the acquisition of drugs for the country’s hospitals.
Dr Norton charged that because of the government’s one-stop option of New GPC, citizens have been robbed of critical drugs.
He said that some pharmacies at health facilities are without some drugs simply because New GPC cannot bring it or doesn’t bring it on time.
“If you can’t get it from New GPC, you just do without,” Norton explained in an interview with Kaieteur News.
He said that for years the opposition saw an unhealthy trend of the New GPC benefitting from most, if not all of the contracts for the importation of medical drugs.
“All the doubts and accusations about the award of such contracts should be cleared up by the government in the interest of the citizens of Guyana,” Dr Norton declared.
Dr Norton recalled the time when it was complained that selected bidders are chosen for contracts. He made mention of International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA) whose head, Lloyd Singh, complained that the Ministry of Health is spending taxpayers money and if there was prequalification of tenders and allocation of funds it must go through a level and transparent process.
Singh said that the government cannot claim that it was pre-selecting given that he is confident that IPA provides drugs at a cheaper price.
The recent award of a $1.3B contract for the importation of pharmaceuticals is being queried by the other companies that import drugs.
Three major importers, among them IPA, said that they were never made aware of the contract; that there was no tender and that if there was, they were never allowed to tender.
The New GPC owned by Dr Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, it is claimed had a monopoly on pharmaceutical imports for the Ministry of Health and for the Georgetown Public Hospital.
The Auditor General had cause to criticize the methods used to ensure that the New GPC monopolise the drug imports. He pointed to irregular tender practices which saw the government actually splitting contracts to avoid going to tender for the imports of the drugs.
The law dictates that imports over a certain amount of money must go to public tender. Instead, the government always ensured that the contracts were below the range of the tender board and simply offered the awards to Ramroop’s New GPC.
The political opposition recognized the very close relationship between Dr Ramroop and the then President Bharrat Jagdeo. Dr Ramroop was identified as Jagdeo’s best friend. They challenged the contract splitting, but the government always used its majority in Parliament to defeat motions that sought to change the rules that permitted contract splitting.
It was recently revealed that last year, when the government awarded a $311M contract to New GPC importers found that some of the prices put forward by the entity were exorbitant; that the government was paying much more than it should for some of the pharmaceuticals being imported.
They noticed for example that the cream, Ketoconazole, which was imported in 15g and 30g containers, was priced by the importer at $2,000 per tube while the local retailers were offering the cream to the public for $140 and $300, the latter being the retail value.
These items were imported in large quantities and a casual inspection revealed that the importer priced the contract at $50 million more than what it should have been.
Ketoconazole is used to treat fungal infections such as dandruff and athlete’s foot, jock itch and similar ailments.
More recently, an inspection of a shipment of Omeprazole, which is imported in 20 milligram and 28 milligram packets, also found huge price discrepancies.
The importing company, New GPC, is charging the government as much as six times the retail price of the drug on the local market.
Omeprazole is used in medicine to treat Gastro esophagel reflux disease, gastric and duodenum ulceration and gastritis. Simply put, it treats ulcers and what the ordinary people call ‘burnt stomach’.
A source said that the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation charges $1,909 per tube while International Pharmaceutical Corporation retails the drug at $364 per tube.
In response, the New GPC stated that counterfeit drugs are always cheaper, a suggestion that the others were importing counterfeit drugs,
Head of IPA, Lloyd Singh, said that he is analyzing the list of imports provided by the New GPC and that in the coming days he is going to make the disclosures.
Singh said that his company, IPA, has largely been sidelined by the government in preference of its favourite, the New GPC.
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