The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard on Monday last that the Ministry of Public Health is still to receive, since 2013, over $56M in drugs and medical supplies from six companies: – International Pharmaceutical Agency; Meditron Scientific Sales; PAHO; Bryden PI Ltd; Caribbean Medical Supplies and Henry Schien.
It was related that the ministry contracted the six companies to deliver the supplies, but as of the end of May this year, the outstanding supplies are yet to be received.
During Monday’s session Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Health Collette Adams was asked to explain why the drugs were not received although the suppliers were paid.
The PS said that her ministry is currently addressing the issue and a number of corrective measures are now being instituted.
Adams said that she has recently written to one of the errant suppliers asking that the issue be dealt with. Additionally, the PS said that one supplier indicated that they have no outstanding supplies for the ministry, as they have already delivered the drugs. However when the Auditor General (AG) did an audit of the affairs of that ministry, there were no records to validate what Adams told the PAC.
Chairman of the PAC Irfaan Ali told Ms Adams that what she explained could not be true, since the AG said otherwise. Adams explained that a process of reconciliation is ongoing at the Medical Management Unit (MMU) and the accounts department to verify if the drugs were indeed supplied.
Another PAC member, Nigel Dharamlall, took umbrage to Adams’ explanation and indicated that if the AG’s office found that the drugs were not delivered, it meant that there was no verifiable document to conclude that they were.
Dharamlall said that the issue the PAC is addressing, points to problems not only with the suppliers, but it gives the impression that there is a total breakdown in management at that ministry.
Chairman Ali enquired from Adams what systems are currently in place to prevent a recurrence of the issue. Adams said that a new procurement board is being set up and the appointment of its members rests with the Public Service Ministry, and she projected that the new board will be operational by July.
At this point, committee member Juan Edghill said it was “all well and good to talk about what is to be done” but he was interested with what is being done at present. Edghill said that he is curious to know, since $1.8B was expended in 2016 on drugs and medical supplies and there seems to be no proper systems in place to verify if drugs were delivered.
He bemoaned the length of time it has taken the ministry to address the issue although they knew what prevailed before with the suppliers many years ago. He said what was being ventilated at the PAC gives a good indication of the state of affairs at the Ministry of Public Health.
Mirroring Edghill’s sentiments, Chairman Ali said that the ministry needs to get its act together so that similar issues do not confront the institution in the future. He also questioned the need for the reconciliation, and believes it might be an exercise in futility.
Ali told the PS that when the new board is created, no efforts should be spared to address the plethora of problems that now confront the institution with regards to drug supplies. Adams in response said that greater emphasis will be placed on contract management and suppliers will be held accountable whenever contracts are awarded.
The PS admitted that the situation is not a pleasing one, but many of the issues that have bedeviled the ministry are a rollover from years past. However she assured the PAC that everything will be done to resolve the issues.
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