‘I have nothing to hide’
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Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence
Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

…Lawrence maintains position on $632M drug purchase
…Pasha presses for sanctions in minority report

PUBLIC Health Minister Volda Lawrence said she has nothing to hide, even as a commissioner on the Public Procurement Commission, Sukrishnalall Pasha, is calling for her to be sanctioned over the controversial purchase of $632M in critical drugs by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation earlier this year.

“In my respectful view, having regard to all the evidence, facts and circumstances of this matter it is clear to my mind that the minister should be held responsible for this illegality, since the process was activated by her institution and intervention,” Pasha said in a 30-page report, according to a source who has seen it. He added that based on his findings, the case should be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to allow criminal charges to be instituted where and if necessary. Additionally, he called for sanctions to be imposed against those who had erred administratively.
Pasha’s 30-page minority report is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly by the Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – with the intention of countering the substantive report prepared by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) on GPHC’s multi-million drug purchase. However, Lawrence, when asked to respond to Pasha’s report, declared: “I don’t have anything to hide.” Noting that she is positive that the Government’s tertiary health facility has pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies available for the people of Guyana, the Public Health Minister said that her intentions were pure, and would repeat the act if needs be.

“If I had to do it again, I will do it again. It’s the process that we have to address,” she told the Guyana Chronicle. Minister Lawrence pointed out that in addition to the investigation conducted by the PPC, she had ordered the GPHC Board of Directors to conduct an internal investigation, and while that report is available, she is awaiting release of the PPC’s report. The commission’s report on the multi-million dollar drug purchase was submitted to the Parliament of Guyana by the PPC Chairperson Carol Corbin.
“I have not seen his (Sukrishnalall Pasha) report, neither have I seen the PPC’s report, when I see the PPC report, that is the big thing for me,” Minister Lawrence posited. The Public Health Minister was among those who had appeared before the commission when the investigation was being conducted into the drug purchase. During her appearance, she denied approving the purchase of $632M worth of emergency drugs by the GPHC.
Minister Lawrence reportedly told the commission it was the then Chief Executive Officer (GPHC) Alan Johnson, who had issued the purchase, maintaining that she had never granted any approval. Months after the Public Health Minister had appeared before the PPC, GPHC, in a statement in July, said that Minister Lawrence was not at fault based on an investigation conducted by the board.

PPC Commissioner Sukrishnalall Pasha

According to the GPHC, the findings have revealed that after a drug shortage was reported at the medical facility, Minister Lawrence met with management and asked that a plan be devised to alleviate the situation.
Subsequently, a plan of action was developed and presented to the minister by the GPHC’s finance director.
That plan of action included determining the availability of drugs from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), the Materials Management Unit (MMU), and local suppliers; obtaining quotations from suppliers; sending an evaluation report to the National Procurement and Tender Administration (NPTAB) for approval, followed by the award of tender.

What transpired, however, was that rather than follow the prescribed plan of action to the letter, the then CEO wrote the NPTAB seeking approval for the contracts after the corporation had begun receiving pharmaceuticals from the suppliers.
But Pasha in his minority report shared a different view. In addition to contending that the commission has omitted critical information from its substantive report, Pasha, who was nominated to the position by the PPP, is reportedly claiming that the GPHC had rigged the procurement process to give Ansa McAl the lion’s share of the $632M drug purchase.
According to a reliable source, who has seen the report, it is Pasha’s belief that Minister Lawrence played an integral role in the procurement process, and as such should be held accountable. According to that source, Pasha in his missive, said: “In my respectful view, having regard to all the evidence, facts and circumstances of this matter it is clear to my mind that the minister should be held responsible for this illegality, since the process was activated by her institution and intervention.”

Based on his findings, Pasha recommended that the case be sent to the DPP to allow for criminal charges to be administered where and if necessary. Additionally, he called for sanctions to be imposed against those who had erred administratively.
When contacted on Tuesday for a comment, Pasha asked that the Guyana Chronicle return a call within one hour, but subsequent calls up until Friday have gone unanswered.
However on Monday, he declined to comment on the matter at hand.
“I don’t wish to speak on the issue. Whatever I did, it was supposed to be kept with some level of confidentiality,” he said.

The source told the Guyana Chronicle that Pasha in his minority reported acted outside of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the investigation carried out by the PPC.
The PPC chairperson told this newspaper that the commission did not recommend sanctions against the errant public officials, noting that decision lies with the Government and those sitting at the helm of the GPHC.
While confirming that the findings have confirmed that the procurement laws were breached, given the fact that the GPHC had sought approval from the NPTAB after it had started to receive drugs from suppliers, the chairperson maintained that it was never the intention of the commission to recommend disciplinary action.
“That was not the purpose of the investigation,” she emphasised.
Based on the Terms of Reference (ToR), the investigation was executed to determine the circumstances under which the emergency drugs were procured. Additionally, it sought to determine whether the GPHC had acted in compliance with Procurement Act Chapter 73:05 in the procurement of emergency pharmaceuticals.

Another key aim of the investigation was to have greater understanding of the Public Health Minister’s involvement. Additionally, it was the intention of the PPC to provide a menu of measures that would allow the premier health institution to improve its procurement practices in keeping with the Procurement Act Chapter 73:05.
In July, 2017, the Finance Minister Winston Jordan confirmed reports by the Guyana Chronicle that NPTAB had never approved the purchase of the more than $632M in “emergency pharmaceutical supplies” for the GPHC.

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