Minister Joe Harmon’s clumsy refutation of my story that the APNU+AFC administration signed a secret, sole-sourced health insurance deal with the Surinamese Insurance company, ASSURIA, not only confirmed the story, but makes a strong case for the Public Procurement Commission to add this transaction to its bucket list of questionable transactions entered into by APNU+AFC. The facts as presented in my original story now have been authenticated by Minister Harmon. Indeed, Finance Minister Jordan and other senior personnel of APNU+AFC who have joined Minister Harmon in a vain effort to refute my story merely added further confirmation to my story.
For clarity, I again present the facts. Fact 1 is that a health insurance deal was signed by APNU+AFC with ASSURIA. Minister Harmon, Minister Jordan and others in their clumsy effort to obfuscate confirmed that APNU+AFC did sign the agreement. Fact 2, confirmed by Harmon and others is that the deal is worth over $38M annually and for a five-year term of government it is worth an accumulated sum of $190M (or close to $US1M).
Fact 3 is that the deal is a sole-sourced arrangement. There was never any public advertisement or any public solicitation or request for proposal, as is required by law for such expenditures. APNU+AFC embarked on a deliberate path to avoid and subvert the procurement procedures. This too was confirmed by Minister Harmon and Minister Jordan.
Fact 4 is that the deal was negotiated and consummated secretly. The contract was never publicly announced at any post-Cabinet briefing or at any other public information session. It was deliberately concluded as a secret arrangement and only became a subject for public discussion after it was exposed by me many months after the fact.
In their defense, they opened up a “can of worms” that forces me to call on the Public Procurement Commission to investigate this transaction. The defense by APNU+AFC exposed a deliberate ploy to subvert the public procurement procedures. Minister Harmon and subsequently Minister Jordan in their clumsy defense asserted that the negotiation with ASSURIA took ten months. Whether it took ten months, or ten weeks or ten minutes is irrelevant in terms of the tangible elements of the transaction.
In fact, this piece of information makes the matter even more egregious. The fact that it took ten months to negotiate the deal demonstrates that there was no public emergency and, therefore, should have followed the standard procurement procedures of a public advertisement, a public tender and bidding process, with the attendant evaluation of submitted bids. This is what transparency and accountability are. The fact that in that ten month period a secret deal was being negotiated demonstrates intent to subvert the procurement procedure.
Minister Harmon asserted that about $17M of this amount will be deducted from the salaries of Ministers. This would mean given the number of ministers that each is paying about $30,000 per month. This does not materially change my story. The fact is that APNU+AFC negotiated a deal with ASSURIA and the payment to ASSURIA is a charge on the consolidated fund of Guyana. That fund is not owned by APNU+AFC or by any minister. It is owned by the people of Guyana and President Granger and his Cabinet have temporary control of the consolidated fund. But that control is subjected to a number of laws and procedures. These laws and procedures were knowingly and deliberately flouted and there was a concerted effort to keep the transaction secret.
The confirmation that the deal was in negotiation for ten months, before it was signed, meant that it was being negotiated before the 2017 budget was finalized. It was never made a part of the 2017 budget and it was never mentioned during the budget debate. In fact, during the consideration of the budget estimates for the Ministry of the Presidency, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Public Health, no mention of health insurance as an additional benefit for ministers and members of the Cabinet, was mentioned. Clearly, the ASSURIA deal was consummated in deception.
During the budget debate, Minister Patterson castigated those who criticized VAT on medical bills declaring that the government provides free health care and those who want private health care must pay for it. Shouldn’t this apply to Ministers too? Weeks prior to my exposure of the ASSURIA transaction, Minister Harmon, referring to overseas trips by Ministers seeking health care, stated that Government has not been paying for such overseas health care.
He was adamant that ministers were paying for their own health care whenever they accessed such care. The auditor general would be able to confirm that Ministers and their families flew to Ireland, Cuba, the USA, CARICOM countries for health care and the Government paid for these trips, not only for the expense of the ministers, but also for their families accompanying them. In one instance payment was also made for a private physician to accompany one of the ministers to Ireland.
I have no problem with ministers seeking overseas health care and that government pays for such care; my problem is that at least two ministers publicly denied that Government paid for ministers to access overseas health care.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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