Monday, July 14, 2008

Peeping Tom - Doctor, doctor please, I need a heart transplant

Kaieteur News, July 14, 2008 | Features / Columnists > Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom - Doctor, doctor please, I need a heart transplant

For close to two weeks, I, the Peeper have been exposing what I thought was a bad deal entered into between the Government and the investors at Sanata. I wrote my piece. I had my say. I knocked on the door of public opinion, and no one answered. I kept quiet after that.

However, I did upset a few persons. This newspaper is now paying dearly for those opinions. It is a price worth paying.

Freedom is something that must be valued, especially the right to free expression. I have no regrets about what I wrote, and I have said so. I was also encouraged to persevere when I was told that I was free to criticize those who did wrong.

I am in receipt of a great deal of information about that deal, about the background of some of those involved. Someone even emailed me an interesting document from Queens in New York about the Queens in Guyana. So I am aware of a number of things, a great number of things.

What I was not aware of was the fact that Cabinet had waived tender board procedures which allowed the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation to gain a significant foothold in the health sector. I did not know about this, and I must thank Chris Ram for highlighting it in his column yesterday in the Stabroek News.

I did not see the original report on this matter in that newspaper. But, when Ram mentioned it in his column yesterday, I immediately went in search of the article. What I read almost caused me to have a heart attack.

In fact, right now my heart is palpitating abnormally. I am also having problems breathing. The stress of that article is too much for me.

The gist of that article is that hundreds of millions of dollars in medical supplies are being purchased from the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation without any competitive bidding. Apparently, the health sector has been granted, by Cabinet, a standing waiver to allow it to make such purchases.

I am not satisfied with the explanation given to that newspaper by the Minister of Health. The minister is arguing that the arrangement is neither illegal nor irregular. He points to precedents whereby, in the past, medical supplies were sourced from the Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation.

What he should have mentioned was that, at the time, it was the Government’s policy to make all Government purchases, as far as possible, from State agencies; and at the time GPC was State-owned.

Any government keen on transparency would have allowed the procurement of drugs to go through a competitive process, rather than allowing one company to hog so much of Government purchasing. This is all the more so considering that the Government had passed a National Procurement Bill which sought to entrench transparency through a competitive process.

I believe something is radically wrong with the public procurement system when something like this could have happened.

It is simply inexplicable, and I call for a public inquiry into this matter. I also call on the international community which funds supplies to the health sector to be more rigorous and ensure that there is never any waiver of the tender board procedure for the supply of materials and drugs to the public health system in Guyana under any foreign -funded contract.

I am also making the point which I made before: no one company should be enjoying so much largesse from the State. It is inexplicable for one company to be supplying hundreds of millions of dollars in supplies to the health system, and to be paid on signing of the contract, without any competitive process. Such concessions are bound to give that company and unassailable advantage over others.

I wonder if the Government understands the implications of what they are doing. They are paying someone up-front for supplies which have to be made over a period of time.

That money could, therefore, then be invested and earn an interest to the investor, thus making State funds a form of cash-cow. This is a risk that must now be obviated.

I wonder if the public understands how the Government is managing State resources. The NGPC is owned by the principals of Queens Investment Inc.

The NGPC supplies hundreds of millions of dollars in drugs without having to go through a competitive process.

Queens Investment Inc, earlier this year, acquired rights to the Sanata Textile complex without also having to subject itself to a process of competitive bidding. What really is going on in Guyana? What the hell is really going on in Guyana?

This is giving me a headache. I need an aspirin. I wonder whether the NGPC is supplying the hospital with aspirin. I wonder what price they are charging the Government for aspirin. I am calling on the Government to make public the individual prices being charged for each item being supplied under this arrangement.

I want the Auditor General to sign off on these prices before they are made public. When the prices are made public, I will then ask local companies to say whether they can supply any of the items cheaper.

I know they say that aspirin is good for the heart; but, right now, I do not feel like drinking any aspirin that was supplied to the local health system without being subject to a competitive process. I will therefore have to ask the foreign doctors who recently performed the kidney transplant not to return home as yet.

The Peeper is not feeling too well, because of all that is being made public. Doctor, doctor please, I think I may need a heart transplant.

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