AS Papua New Guineans await with bated breath for the 9th session of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) inquiry into the National Department of Health (NDoH) to resume early next year, the police have stepped in to probe allegations of corruption raised in the hearings to date.
Acting Police Comm David Manning confirmed receiving a letter from Health and HIV/AIDS Minister Jelta Wong requesting investigations into allegations at the PAC inquiry.
Manning said police were ready to conduct criminal investigations into allegations of bribery and of awarding contracts to supply and deliver medicine and medical kits to health centres and aid posts nationwide.
Manning said: “There is an understanding between us and the PAC to probe matters of national interest.”
The PAC inquiry was called soon after the NDoH announced on July 18 that Borneo Pacific Pharmaceuticals Ltd (BPPL) had won two contracts worthK100 million to supply antibiotics and medical kits in Papua New Guinea this year.
The announcement by Health secretary Pascoe Kase sparked public outrage and criticisms from those in the medical industry due to recurring shortages of pharmaceutical drugs nationwide every year.
On Aug 22, PAC chairman Sir John Pundari announced that a parliamentary inquiry would be held in the interest of the people and country.
The following is a timeline and highlights of the eight sessions of the PAC inquiry held to date:
- Oct 29 (Day 1): Sir John outlined a seven-part probe that included the history of the procurement and supply of medicines in PNG, and the pull and push systems (its procurement process, mechanisms and its efficicency). The National Procurement Commission (NPC) and the tender and procurement process that was used by NDoH to award contracts to BPPL was also the focus of the inquiry;
- Oct 30 (Day 2): PAC deputy chairman Gary Juffa said Kase had failed in his job as the health secretary to make good recommendations and advice for the Government in 2013. “We want to know, how you committed this country and its taxpayers money to pay for the 2013 medicine procurement and supply contract … basically, after the (health) department threw away the A$38 million (K87 million) Aus-Aid project to suplly medicine, it is like K70 million plus down the drain.” Kase disagreed with Sir John’s query whether Kase and his technical evaluation team felt any remorse over the years that many Papua New Guineans had died from curable diseases due to medicine and drug shortages. Kase told the PAC that his family and NDoH officals did not have any relations with BPPL.
- Nov 1 (Day 3): Sir John stressed that due to the significance of the issue, the PAC had decided to be fair on all parties and to give them time to prepare their responses. He fixed Nov 19 for Kase and his team to appear before the PAC;
- Nov 19 (Day 4): Juffa warned L&Z Enterprise Logistics Company directors Hong Ling and Chang Chung to present themselves to the PAC inquiry instead of sending a representative, local general manager (logistics) Paul Pio. National Doctors Association (NDA) president testified that drugs coming into the country had not been tested since 2011, although the NDoH had built a testing facility at Gordon in Port Moresby that “is still incomplete”. World Vision country director Heather MacLeod said medicine to treat tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS were held up at the wharf in Port Moresby for more than five months (June to October) because of unpaid K120,000 storage fees.
- Nov 20 (Day 5): City Pharmacy Ltd (CPL) denied that it had asked the NDoH to remove the ISO 9001 certification as a requirement for the procurement and supply of medicines and pharmaceutical drugs in 2014. CPL managing-director Mahesh Patel said “we had only asked for a clarification as the ISO 9001 was not a requirement in the past”. Kase had earlier testified that the ISO 9001 was removed as a requirement at the request of CPL. Patel said CPL had stopped such contract bids after failing to win the K48 million contract depite partnering with MissionPharma, a reputable international company owned by Toyota that had all the necessary certifications. “Our bid was lower than BPPL’s K71 million. We don’t know why (we lost the bid), we were confused too,” Patel said, adding that CPL then refrained from making such bids and that many reputable
companies had also given up on such procurement and supply contracts;
- Nov 25 (Day 6): A bombshell jolted the PAC when Global Customs & Forwarding (GCF) managing-director Harupa Peke told the inquiry that he paid a K100,000 bribe to a member of the NDoH Technical Evaluation
Committee, Paul Dopsie. Sir John said the PAC wanted to know why the National Executive Council (NEC) awarded a K71 million contract to BPPL and not to CPL that submitted a K48 million bid for the same contract. NEC secretary Grace Soo’n was told to produce the NEC submissions, discussions and members present at the decision-making to award the contracts to appear before the inquiry on Dec 2. PAC also asked Kase and LD Logistics Company (LDLC) to tender more documents relating to the awarding of the NDoH contracts;
- Dec 2 (Day 7): Peke continued with his testimony, telling the inquiry of bribe and threats after paying only K20,000 of the K70,000 demanded by Dopsie. Peke said he had to withdraw a complaint letter to
the NDoH after he and his family were threatened with arrest. Sir John also queried the appointment of BPPL chairman Sir Martin Poh as board chairman of Gerehu Hospital. Sir John said the appointment was “a conflict of interest”.