– PS recommended removed; shakeup in MMU
An explosive report probing the leaking of information and the procurement of drugs at the Ministry of Health has found worrying instances of collusion with suppliers last year.
The Board of Inquiry, ordered by President David Granger late last year, was headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ret’d), Winston Cosbert.
Based on the three weeks of investigation, it is now being recommended that the current Permanent Secretary, Trevor Thomas be removed for failing to effectively carry out his duty. He was also accused of being willfully evasive and deceptive during his testimony.
It is not the first time that the Health Ministry has been under scrutiny for contracts.
With billions of dollars annually allocated to the ministry to buy pharmaceuticals for its health centres and hospitals countrywide, state audits under the administrations of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had found serious procurement flaws which tilted the process in favour of one company- New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (New GPC) and its sister company.
The Coalition administration, which came to power in May 2015, had vowed to level the playing field for pharmaceutical suppliers and implement systems to ensure transparency.
But it appeared that wrongdoing at the Health Ministry was continuing.
Procurement and management processes by which the ministry awards contracts for the procurement of pharmaceuticals, services and supplies were not adhered to in many cases, the report indicated.
In some cases, companies were awarded contracts for products which they were not authorized to distribute in the first place. It appeared the ministry paid little attention to this.
For example, Caribbean Medical Supplies was awarded a contract to supply HIV Rapid Unigold Test Kits for which they were not the authorized distributor.
NO ATTENTION PAID
Another company, Meditron Inc., was awarded a contract to supply four Hematology Analysers while they were not the authorized distributor.
Caribbean Medical Supplies signed a contract for $70.8M, with the monies paid, but the test kits were not delivered.
There were incidents of unauthorized disclosure of information in a specific case, a supplier from Trinidad – Western Scientific Company Limited. This was the same company that last year was blacklisted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
It was alleged that Western Scientific President, Edwin McKoon, breached procurement rules by calling the ministry to verify which drugs were out of stock – this information had not even been made public yet. It showed clearly he knew what was going on.
An Office Assistant, Kandasie Aaron, whose close relation to McKoon sparked the probe after a whistleblower threatened to go public, appeared to have been intimately involved with the Trinidad businessman.
Despite evidence of several text messages between Aaron and McKoon being brought to the attention of the Permanent Secretary, he never took action. Rather, he transferred Aaron without an investigation.
According to the report, leaking of internal information to suppliers appeared to be normal practice in the Ministry. This had led to the dismissal of former Permanent Secretary, Leslie Cadogan and Prakash Sookdeo, former Head of the Procurement Department.
The report by Cosbert noted that while procurement laws have mechanisms, the ministry has nothing in place to identify authorized disclosure of price-sensitive information (leaking info to suppliers).
It was found that staffers of the Materials Management Unit (MMU) were untrained and unqualified to fill the job requirements. The PS and his deputy were not effectively supervising the Procurement Department.
While under regulations, Collette Adams, the Deputy PS was in charge of procurement for the ministry, this duty was usurped by Thomas.
The report said that inventory checks at the Management Accounting System appeared far more than what was found physically on hand. It was disclosed that almost $4B was budgeted for all health posts and regional hospitals except the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.
Thomas testified that on October 4th, he signed a contract with New GPC, for the supply of pharmaceutical and medical items totaling $554M. New GPC was supposed to be paid an advance of 30 percent. However, the ministry instead of paying $166M, paid 50 percent of the amount ($277M). This was a difference of $111M.
The report stated that to cover up the matter, Thomas signed adjustment documents without informing other officials, like the then Minister, Dr. George Norton.
It was also revealed in the report that Aaron, who leaked information to the Trinidad supplier, was “intimate” with the company’s President, Edwin McKoon – she even stored his name as Mr. Mokoy. She testified that they had started a relationship and became intimate.
Among other things, it was recommended that the Deputy PS should also be censored for authorizing the 50 percent advance to New GPC without properly checking the contract. Her excuse was unsatisfactory, the report said, and disciplinary action should be taken.
It was also recommended that the Principal Personnel Officer, Chetwin Felix, be trained more. He was described as being adversarial during his testimony.
The report recommended that the contract for Finance Manager Sandra Singh not be renewed, and that the present staffers of the Materials Management Unit (MMU) be transferred or alternatively be trained in the area of procurement.
It was recommended also that the ministry dismiss Aaron for leaking information to the Trinidad supplier. The report stressed that there is evidence that she conspired with McKoon for insider information that gave him the edge over other competitors. It was also recommended that McKoon and his companies be barred from future tenders with the ministry.
During the three weeks of hearings at the Department of Public Service, Waterloo Street, some 34 witnesses including the former Minister of Public Health, Dr. Norton; staffers of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, the Director of Food and Drugs Department, Marlan Cole; Auditor General, Deodat Sharma and other suppliers were called to testify.
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