Sunday, August 10, 2008

Health Minister admits to buying drugs illegally

Health Minister admits to buying drugs illegally
Kaieteur News, August 10, 2008 | News.

Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, yesterday admitted that his ministry made a mistake as it relates to the procurement process in purchasing drugs and medical supplies.

The recent Auditor General’s report, which was laid in Parliament on Thursday, stated that the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), which is now a separate entity from the Ministry of Health, continued to use the ministry’s Cabinet approval to purchase drugs and medical supplies from specialised agencies both locally and overseas.

It was explained that, before the Procurement Bill was passed in Parliament in 2004, the Health Ministry would seek Cabinet’s approval for the purchase of the drugs and medical supplies, which, according to Dr Ramsammy, was legal.

However, when the Procurement Bill was enacted into law in 2004, the ministry had to receive the approval from the tender board.

This was not done, as the ministry continued to seek Cabinet’s consent. In essence, the Health Ministry kept breaking the law when it did not seek the tender board approval for the purchase of drugs and medical supplies totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Auditor General report stated that the Health Ministry spent $608.4 million on drugs and medical supplies and could not “totally account for drugs and medical supplies.” According to Minister Ramsammy, this has now been corrected.

“The Procurement Act says that the tender board approves and that Cabinet has its chance to give its no objection. So we can’t change the recommendation, we can tell them that we don’t like the recommendation,” Minister Ramsammy noted.

He added that, “The Auditor General is not saying it’s corruption; the Auditor General is saying that it’s the process, but people are making a big deal as if some hanky panky has happened, but it’ s nothing like that,” Dr Ramsammy stressed.

The Auditor General’s report had also stated that, during 2006, amounts totalling $608.406 million were expended on drugs and medical supplies, for which the corporation could not give total accountability.

In response, Minister Ramsammy explained that when the supplies were purchased, the corporation did not have the storage space for them. In this regard, the GPHC asked the supplier to release the supplies over time.

“So, if I have ordered 100 crates and I have space for only five, I would take the five and deliver the rest later. So we took possession of the 100, but we only have five with us, and then as we move on, we take the rest. We have always accounted for our supplies,” Dr Ramsammy said.

He said that some of the drugs would be stored at a small GPHC bond and the remainder at the Health Ministry bond. When the Auditor General checked, he could not find all the drugs at the GPHC.

Dr Ramsammy said his ministry sent an explanation to the Auditor General but it would seem that the response was ignored.

The drug suppliers were identified as Pan American Health Organisation, Inter American Development Bank, Western Scientific, and the Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation, the largest supplier accounting for some 70 per cent of all drug purchased.

He acknowledged it is true that all the supplies were not delivered at the same time, but he said that the corporation requested for it to be delivered in a staggered manner.

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