-insists she did not breach procurement laws
– says lawyer being engaged to deal with delinquent suppliers
By Kiana Wilburg
Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence has attempted for a second time, to address perceptions that corruption surrounds the procedure used for the award of a recent contract for emergency pharmaceuticals.
At a press conference held at the National Communications Network (NCN) Channel 11 yesterday, Lawrence insisted that she did not breach the procurement laws, while noting that the Board of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) will be examining the route taken, among other matters.
At the briefing with the media which was broadcast live, the Minister also spoke to various issues, which included the state in which she found the health sector and the circumstances which led to a contract for emergency drugs.
In her opening statement, the Minister said that the GPHC, like the Ministry of Public Health, has been in a crisis for some time.
Lawrence said that on February 3, last, she requested a meeting with the Directors, Senior Management Officials and the Chief Executive Officer of the Georgetown Public Hospital, Alan Johnson. She said that the reason for the meeting was due to the fact that she received reports of a shortage of drugs at the hospital.
“I met with that team and during our discussions to ascertain why there was a shortage, I was told a few things. I was told that there were over 200 drugs which were in short supply. And there were several reasons for this: one was that the suppliers who should have been supplying drugs around that time and a few months earlier, some of them indicated their inability fulfill their contractual arrangements.
Another reason was that there were some suppliers who did supply a few items on their contracts but have since indicated their inability to supply the remaining drugs listed on the contract,” the Minister recounted
She said that the aforementioned, compounded by the fact that in the previous year, there were issues of short supply by some companies, led to a shortage of drugs in the hospital.
“Upon further questioning, I was also told that in order to ‘fill that gap’; the hospital was buying these drugs on a needs basis from the private institutions. And that was quite alarming to me, the fact that the importers could not supply based on their contract but they were supplying the private market,” Lawrence noted.
The Minister said that the situation put a strain on the hospital to be able to dispense services at the level it ought to; hence, it was in a crisis.
Lawrence said she intervened by having a stock count done. It was subsequently discovered that there were 287 drugs which were out of stock.
FILLING THE GAP
After noting the number of drugs that were unavailable, the Public Health Minister explained that the next stage was ascertaining how to fill the gap as quickly as possible.
“We further discussed what would be the mechanism to fill that gap, since 2017 tenders had not gone out, and even if it had gone out, the process in which, and the time span in which there will be a turnaround for the hospital to begin to receive those drugs, that would take somewhere between three to four and a possible six months…in them acquiring those drugs,” Lawrence said.
She told the media that she inquired whether it was possible to have the drugs delivered in a shorter time, and as such, a two-week period was looked at. Lawrence said she was advised, and it was subsequently decided, that the “short list of companies” could be looked at and those entities could be asked to bid on the list of items that were needed.
At the said meeting, Lawrence said it was agreed that companies which were being investigated and companies that did not fulfill obligations on prior contracts, would not be asked to bid for the two-week turnaround contract.
“I was subsequently informed that the documents were prepared and four companies had uplifted them, paid their monies, and they had bid on the list of items. The stocks were being supplied as per tender given and contracts made,” Lawrence noted.
The Minister said that she received a call one morning indicating that there was a contract for ANSA McAl Trading Limited in the sum of $605M. She said that she asked for the document to be pulled, as she wanted to know why the company was being awarded such a sum.
After making some checks with GPHC’s CEO, she was informed that the company is handling the “cold chain” aspect of the contract for emergency drugs. She was also told that the $605M cost took into account the fact that the drugs are coming by air and would be imported from Europe.
Lawrence said that the second day after clearing up the issue, the documents relating to ANSA McAl were in the media and that “the rollercoaster started.”
The Minister also cleared the air that there was no sole sourcing involved. Lawrence noted that four companies benefitted from the contract for emergency pharmaceuticals, but the only documents which were floating around in the media were those in relation to ANSA McAl. The other companies which benefitted included New GPC, Health 2000 and Chirosyn Discovery.
Lawrence said that New GPC’s bid was some $20M while the other two companies won smaller amounts.
BREACH OF PROCUREMENT
Since the matter of the contract for emergency drugs came to light, there have been accusations from various quarters that Lawrence breached the Public Procurement Act by trying to fast track the payment for ANSA McAl.
But Lawrence does not share this view.
Responding to questions from Kaieteur News, Lawrence said that one must appreciate the fact that at the time of the contract, there was no board in place. As such, it became the responsibility of the Minister to provide authorization on the matter.
She also stressed that the Minister is not involved in the procurement process. She said that she is only involved in declaring that there is an emergency and that there is a need to implement a mechanism to address the matter.
“I was instructed just like others, that you go to the shortlist of companies and you invite them to bid. The process following whatever, takes place at GPHC… the next safeguard is the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB),” Lawrence said.
Questions have also been mounting lately on whether Cabinet was aware of the request for the $605M to be fast tracked for payment to be made to ANSA McAl. Lawrence was asked to speak to this matter and she noted that Cabinet was not aware of this since it did not leave NPTAB as yet.
Lawrence said that Cabinet is indeed aware that there was a shortage of over 200 drugs at the hospital. The Public Health Minister noted however that the “process” regarding filling the gap is not one for Cabinet.
Furthermore, the Minister was asked to say at which point Tender Board was asked to be part of the process she spoke of. Lawrence said, “I will not be able to answer that question…”
She noted, however, that a large quantity of the drugs has already been delivered, but no payments have been made.
As for those suppliers who are yet to fulfill their contractual obligations, the Minister said that moves are apace to engage a lawyer so that the matters can be dealt with.
She said that in many cases where the suppliers were unable to provide the drugs as stipulated in their contracts, there was no explanation given to the hospital as to what problems there were experiencing.
“There is no kind of paper trail in this regard for you to follow,” Lawrence added.
Since a large quantity of the drugs has already been delivered to GPHC, Minister Lawrence was asked to state if it is the norm for supplies to be delivered before a contract receives the blessings of Tender Board.
The Minister said that this was one of her questions as well and as such, she has asked the GPHC Board to investigate the procedure that was taken.
The Minister assured that steps are also being taken to better the management and procurement system being used by GPHC.
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