$50M scam busted …alleged plot to steal millions from Health Ministry unearthed

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Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence

…police, internal auditors to launch probe

AN attempt to allegedly defraud the Public Health Ministry of millions of dollars during the recently concluded Health Expo 2018 has been unearthed and police and internal auditors from the Finance Ministry are soon to be called in to launch investigations.

A well-placed source at the Public Health Ministry told the Guyana Chronicle that there was an alleged plot to steal millions of dollars during the hosting of the country’s inaugural Health Expo, which was held from May 30 to June 2, 2018. Though unconfirmed, it is believed that the sum is to the tune of $50M. At this point, it is unclear what the money was intended for.

However, according to the source, bogus documents which cloned those of the Public Health Ministry were presented as “official” documents to cheat the state of millions of dollars.
Though it is unclear at this stage how many persons at the ministry’s Brickdam headquarters were involved in the alleged scam, it is believed that they have well-organised connections outside of the Public Health Ministry.

The Ministry of Public Health headquarters on Brickdam, where the scheme to defraud the ministry of millions of dollars was unearthed. (Photo by Delano Williams)

The plot reportedly crumbled, however, on the eve of the opening of Health Expo 2018, after a diligent staff of the ministry detected that the documents represented were fake. It is believed that the corrupt practice had been ongoing for a long time, but was only detected recently. Investigators from the Guyana Police Force and internal auditors from the Finance Ministry will soon launch their investigations.

On Tuesday, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence warned senior officers of the ministry that police detectives and internal auditors will descend upon its Brickdam headquarters to investigate the “misappropriation of funds and the blatant attempts to steal” public funds.
According to a press statement issued by the Public Health Ministry, Minister Lawrence, who is a professional accountant, told employees when she took over the mantle in January 2017 that she would not tolerate dishonest staff.

In a frank discourse with senior Public Health officials, the Public Health Minister raised questions about “blatant attempts to steal” and other brazen, dishonest acts perpetrated by employees of the ministry. Lawrence said the police and officials from the Ministry of Finance will carry out open investigations into ongoing corrupt practices by staff members.
“Fraud has been ongoing a long time at the Public Health Ministry”, Lawrence said.

Cautioning programme managers, who appeared stunned by her revelations, Lawrence said, “I am advising you to check what you sign and ensure it meets the regulatory requirements and it is in keeping with your programmes.”
Lawrence reiterated, “I will not compromise on the issue of accountability within the public health sector.”

The minister did not hide her disquiet over allegations that employees within the ministry have been sending missives on internal matters to persons outside the Public Service structure. According to the Public Health Minister, letter writers will shortly have the opportunity to “bring the evidence” to support their claims. Less threatening, but equally toxic, she said, is the issue of insubordination, which is rife among some categories of employees.

“Some parts of the MoPH train have been derailed [and] the madness has to stop,” Minister Lawrence stated. In May 2017, a number of employees were arrested at the ministry’s Materials Management Unit (MMU) Bond at Diamond, East Bank Demerara, following the discovery of medical supplies that were allegedly stolen. The stolen items were valued at approximately US$500 (G$100,000).