…as President studies Health Ministry inquiry report
President David Granger is currently studying a damning report that has recommended the removal
of Trevor Thomas, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, for failing to effectively carrying out his job.
The Board of Inquiry report, conducted by Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ret’d), Winston Cosbert, made its way into the public domain earlier this month without the administration having a chance to pronounce on the recommendations.
Thomas has been very much on the job, and has been seen making official visits and in photos released by the state media.
Questioned on Thursday about the Permanent Secretary’s future, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman disclosed that the inquiry report is currently being considered by the President and based on the recommendations and findings, the Head of State will “act accordingly, in due course” on the matter.
Trotman was at the time hosting the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The report, probing the leaking of information and the procurement of drugs at the Ministry of Public Health, found worrying instances of collusion with suppliers last year.
Based on the three weeks of investigation, it was recommended that Thomas be removed for failing to effectively carry out his duty. He was also accused of being willfully evasive and deceptive during his testimony to the Board of Inquiry.
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.
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.
There were incidents of unauthorized disclosure of information in a specific case.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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