It is time all of us stop using weasel words and stop trying to put lipstick on this pig. Let us call it what it is. APNU+AFC is guilty of massive corruption in the Ministry of Public Health, sole-sourcing for medicines worth billions. Such sole-sourcing not only breaches the laws of Guyana, they place a heavy burden on Guyanese taxpayers because the cost of goods procured are heavily increased. For example, one contract cost 67% more than what Guyana paid for those same medicines just a few months before. There are too many examples to mention here – sole-sourcing medicine contract for $605M, sole-sourcing medicine contract for $368M, sole-sourcing rental contract for a house on Sussex Street to be used for a medical warehouse for more than $350M so far are just some of the more spectacular examples. Just these three contracts amount to more than $1.25B in just over three years through procurement malpractices.
I commend the Kaieteur News Editorial Board for making an effort to highlight the spate of corrupt transactions at the Ministry of Public Health. Kaieteur News Editorial of August 6 was an important one. It addressed the spate of sole-sourcing and corrupt transactions for medicines and medical supplies that currently exists. The Editorial helps to keep our outrage at the abuse of taxpayers’ money in the forefront. This is what our news media must be committed to – exposing the government of the day in each instance and holding them accountable. This Kaieteur News Editorial is an important effort to keep government accountable.
I was disappointed, however, that Kaieteur News’s sought to soften the criticism by creating a false equivalency. They chose to preface their criticism of APNU+AFC by insisting that sole-sourcing of medicines was widely practiced by the PPP/C. It was as if Kaieteur News had to find a way to excuse bad, corrupt behavior of APNU+AFC. Is it that Kaieteur News, like many others in Guyana, is afraid to point out the deficiencies and wrongs of APNU+AFC, unless they can buffer the wrongs by painting a picture that the PPP was even more guilty? In this particular instance, the allegation that the PPP was guilty of sole-sourcing is false. The PPP did not sign any large contract with any local company or any private sector company through sole-sourcing.
The Ministry of Health prior to May 2015 did sole-sourced certain items from PAHO and the UNFPA. For example, vaccines were procured from a prepaid fund located at PAHO. Similarly, the Ministry sole-sourced certain reproductive control products, such as contraceptives and condoms through UNFPA.
Kaieteur News alleged that the PPP sole-sourced large amounts of medicines from the New GPC, a company owned by Dr. Bobby Ramroop. This is absolutely false and Kaieteur News knows that it is promoting a falsehood. The former President, Donald Ramotar, responding to the Kaieteur News editorial, pointed out that the contracts the New GPC was awarded under the PPP government was not a sole-sourced contract. Those contracts were awarded through a pre-qualification model of tendering for medicines.
Around 2000, the WHO, in collaboration with the World Bank and other international bodies, had been tackling the problem of medicine procurement at the global level. They had gathered experts in supply chain for the health sector from across the world. The WHO published a model for medicine procurement and recommended a system of pre-qualification as the most effective model for procurement. Under my leadership and with concurrence of the cabinet, we adopted a modified WHO model. The WHO model required that suppliers should have assets (more than $US25M) that would enable them to procure large amounts of medicines. The model required that the supplier should have access to a local warehouse with adequate space that is temperature-controlled. The model also required proof that the supplier had arrangements with manufacturers of medicines that were pre-approved by the WHO or the USFDA or the European authorities.
If we had used the WHO model without any amendment, no local supplier would have qualified. Certain requirements, for example, the amount of assets that a company owns (more than $US25M) and the availability of a warehouse that meets certain requirements (size and temperature controlled) would have been beyond the capacity of any local company. We, therefore, significantly reduced these requirements, hoping that local companies would have been able to meet them. We reduced local assets to $US1M and reduced the size of the warehouse to about 25,000 square foot. Companies had to meet these reduced requirements or provided evidence that they would meet these requirements in order to be pre-qualified. Some companies that tendered for pre-qualification had no warehouse and some had warehouses that did not meet basic requirements for storing medicines and vaccines. One prominent company used a home for a warehouse and its temperature controlled method was to maintain ten refrigerators.
The insistence that the PPP sole-sourced medicines is false. Its sustained repetition demonstrates an intent to mislead. I, therefore, have an obligation to respond and correct this falsehood – the PPP did not sole-sourced any large medicine contract. All the contracts between 2001 and 2015 were through the mechanism of a pre-qualification tendering system. One could argue, as Kaieteur News once did, that the pre-qualification system the PPP used had requirements that were too rigid. APNU+AFC could have then reduced the requirements and allow more companies to become qualified. But they chose to abandon a system that worked well, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is important we tell the story as it is. The PPP used a pre-qualification tendering system to procure medicines. APNU+AFC uses a sole-sourced method to procure billions of dollars of medicines and medical supplies from their friends and donors. Trying to establish a false equivalency between these systems is like putting lipstick on the pig.