Several weeks ago, I exposed the Ministry of Public Health for awarding a sole-sourced $368M contract to HDM Labs for the supply of medicines. The Ministry had pre-selected a number of companies that have consistently supplied the ministry with medicines for more than a couple of decades, including ones that have supplied medicines worth billions since 2015. Yet, the ministry spuriously rejected all these companies as not qualifying to supply medicines on this occasion. It used that clearly bogus excuse to then award the contract to HDM Labs. This is an outfit that has little to no experience in supplying medicines to the public health sector of Guyana.
If the other companies, including Ansa McAl which widely supplies medicines across CARICOM, and the International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA), which has supplied medicines in Guyana for more than two decades, are not qualified, then there is no way that HDM Labs can qualify. The evidence is clear – this was a clear violation of the laws.
When there are legitimate questions pertaining to any procurement in government, particularly when it involves hundreds of millions of dollars and clear breaches of the procurement laws of Guyana, there is an obligation on the part of subject ministers in Parliament to provide answers. This is not optional, but an obligation and a non-negotiable responsibility of ministers.
This past week, the Minister of Public Health refused to answer questions in Parliament pertaining to the questionable transaction worth $368M and described above. The Minister’s refusal to answer parliamentary queries had nothing to do with any procedural deficiency in the way the questions were asked. The questions were laid in absolute concurrence with the standing orders and rules of parliament and, in fact, were laid more than 21 days before her refusal to answer the questions.
In refusing to answer questions posed to her in parliament, the Minister is guilty of dereliction of duty, she is guilty of contempt of parliament and contempt for the people of Guyana. The Minister’s excuse was that her staff was too busy to provide her with an explanation and, therefore, she could not comply with her responsibility.
Ms. Lawrence abrogated her responsibility on the flimsy excuse that her staff was too busy to provide her with a simple explanation. For fair-minded people, this was clearly the minister weaseling out of providing answers in accordance with her mandate. There are a number of problems with this completely unacceptable excuse to meet her responsibility and to carry out her mandate.
First, once the story broke several weeks ago, did the Minister not think she needed to look into this matter? Or was it that she felt it was no problem? Did Cabinet not ask for an explanation? Was the President comfortable with this very obvious breach of the laws of Guyana? Was it not important that anyone, the minister, the president, the prime minister, the finance minister, the minister of the presidency, the cabinet would have queried this egregious breach of the procurement laws?
Second, if we are to believe the minister that her staff was too busy to provide her with answers, will the minister accept this dereliction of duty by her staff that led to her own dereliction of duty to the people of Guyana? Can the Minister tell us why her staff was so busy that they could not provide her with an explanation?
Third, I recall that when this story first was exposed by myself and the media, the Minister and her permanent secretary provided a poorly spirited defence of the contract, insisting it was a genuine emergency. Yet here she was in parliament professing that she was unaware of the facts and her staff was too busy to perform their function. This is insulting and contemptuous.
President Granger is missing in action, as usual. He has not addressed this and any other of the spectacular breaches of the procurement laws that have seen billions of dollars being expended in an unaccountable manner. SOCU continues to pretend it has not seen or heard anything. Hopefully, the Public Procurement Commission will act in accordance with its constitutional mandate and meet its obligation to the Guyanese people by immediately investigating this transaction.
Several weeks ago when I broke the story of how the Ministry of Public Health awarded this sole-sourced $368M contract to HDM Labs, a contractor with little to no experience in procuring and supplying medicines, I asked that the Public Procurement Commission and SOCU immediately investigate this matter. Evidence points to a deliberate violation of the procurement laws of Guyana and misconduct in office at high levels.
Outside of the Public Procurement Commission having a constitutional responsibility to investigate this matter, given SOCU’s obsession with spuriously charging ministers of the previous administration with misconduct in office on the most flimsy and outrageous excuses, we expect these clearly egregious violations will attract their attention. SOCU’s failure to act on these present-day violations represent clear proof that it exists only to harass and intimidate political opponents of this government.
In any case, the Minister’s clumsy excuse for not fulfilling her constitutional and parliamentary mandate, her excuse that she is unable to answer questions on a matter involving inappropriate and illegal use of $368M, an amount paid out to an outfit that has no experience for the purpose it was paid, is contempt for the parliament and for the people of Guyana. It is reason enough for people to expect her resignation.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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