When the white man came to Wabag
Pen & politics are soulmates

Health corruption & incompetence exposed

Juffa Pundari
Public accounts committee deputy chairman Governor Gary Juffa and  chairman Sir John Pundari enter a packed conference room to investigate the health department. How many deaths has this corrupt and incompetent department been responsible for?

SCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country | Edited

PORT MORESBY - Inside a packed conference room on the first level of B-Wing at Papua New Guinea’s parliament house, the Public Accounts Committee awaits senior members of the health department.

Already present are representatives from the logistics  and pharmaceutical companies who have been summoned to give evidence in this investigation into a health system in crisis.

Arriving half an hour late, health secretary Pascoe Kase walks into the packed conference room, smiling sheepishly and nodding an apology to the committee headed by chairman Sir John Pundari and his deputy, Governor Gary Juffa.

They’re not impressed by his lack of punctuality.

Over the past six years, Kase has earned a reputation for dodging the media at every occasion.

But in October his evasive manoeuvres were halted and his arrogance cut down to size by the parliamentary committee summons that compelled him to attend this week’s investigation and give evidence as the star witness.

Kase’s mood quickly shifts as a barrage of questions hits him.

Deputy chairman Juffa is relentless and unforgiving. Kase is asked about logistics, pharmaceutical standards and the contract bidding process that the committee will come to find is riddled with corruption and ‘insider trading.’

Juffa squeezes out vital pieces of a puzzle that show how PNG’s health department lowered standards by ditching international quality management systems to allow pharmaceutical companies to qualify for the tender bidding process.

“I want to go back to the ISO 9001. What’s your understanding of a specific set of standards? What does that mean according to your knowledge?” Juffa asks.

“My personal knowledge? Or my….”

Kase is cut off by the frustrated Juffa.

“Well, your professional knowledge. You’re the secretary for health so I’m assuming you would know about this.”

Kase gives a long-winded response about how there are technical officers who give him advice about various operational areas of the department, but falls short of answering the question.

Juffa again cuts him off.

“Sir…sir… what does the acronym ISO 9001 stand for? Do you know?

“I don’t know. I would want some of the technical people to tell me,” Kase replies.

Juffa lectures the Health Secretary about the meaning of the ISO 9001, about international standards, and asks why the requirement was removed prior to the bidding process for a pharmaceutical tender.

This was just one of many examples of incompetence at the management pinnacle of the health department, shamelessly demonstrated in front of thousands of Papua New Guineans watching the proceedings live on Facebook.

A litany of irregularities continues to be highlighted during the three-day hearing.

One of the logistics companies – L & Z – owned by a Chinese national with no experience in drug distribution was nevertheless awarded a K17 million contract because of the owner’s links with a former health department staff who wrote the tender application.

Another logistics company, operating without a formal contract, was paid more than K20 million with Kase using his authority to make part payments of up to K500,000.

Then the bombshell came when the owner of another logistics company named a senior manager to whom he had paid bribes of about K100,000.

Issue after issue has been raised and exposed:

Medicine shortages still exist. There are chronic shortages of medicines in nearly all rural clinics.

The most expensive bidder was chosen. Borneo Pacific’s bid of K71 million was K20 million higher than the second bidder, City Pharmacy Limited.

Winning tenders had no prior experience. At least two logistics companies awarded drug distribution contracts had no prior experience in drug distribution.

No electronic tracking. One Chinese-owned logistics company admitted it did not have an electronic tracking system because it was “too expensive.”

Collusion with logistics companies. Former and current health department staff alerted individuals and companies to upcoming drug distribution tenders and assisted them in drafting tender documents.

Operating without contracts. LD Logistics operated without a contract for three years after its contract expired and was paid more than K20 million in portions of K500,000 to avoid payment ceiling provisions of the finance management act.

Standards lowered. The health department removed the ISO9001 compliance requirement prior to the bidding process, lowering standards to cater to the demands of tendering companies that could not meet the international quality standard.

The committee has found that health compliance standards were deliberately lowered so companies could qualify.

It has also found that a drug used to induce birth had failed laboratory tests yet may have been distributed. The health department team, when grilled, could not say if the drug had been recalled and removed. They didn’t know.

The public has followed the inquiry with keen interest. Some have offered leads to new evidence that is being followed up by the committee.

The revival of investigations, six years since the last hearings, is quite refreshing for the PNG public.

Comments

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Lindsay F Bond

Essential learning for PNG Health Department staff ?
See: https://www.britannica.com/science/hospital

Britannica outlines: “Illness thus became a matter for the Christian church….“care of the sick was placed above and before every other Christian duty”.

“Roman emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great), having been converted to Christianity… created the opportunity for a new start” and established the “modern concept of a hospital”

Constantine a model for a Christian Prime Minister ?

Sanjay Tikari

Corruption is definitely the cause of degradation of all government services. The goal should be to remove the diseased and heal the government. Corrupted officials and politicians have to be sought out and made to answer.
The way the new Marape/Steven govt. is going after them should be escalated and the cancer removed and obliterated
Wish PNG goes back to the good times that I witnessed and lived through during the 70’s, 80’s and part of the early 90’s

Stephen Charteris

Some of us who worked to improve the delivery of services to the “coal face’ witnessed firsthand the immeasurable and totally unnecessary suffering of children, mothers, the infirm caused by a lack of basic medicines.

A terribly sad outcome for so many who relied upon you. My question to those responsible is WHY - WHY did you do this?

Bernard Corden

Department of Disease is a much more appropriate title.

Dr John Christie

While it is important that investigations continue into how the National Department of Health got into this mess, and if corruption and fraud is identified it is dealt with according to law, the real issue is what is being done about the current extreme shortage of efficacious basic lifesaving drugs and dressings etc at aid posts, health centres and hospitals?

Nothing by the sound of it.

The procurement of pharmaceuticals to a standard and distribution is not rocket science.

David Kitchnoge

Police need to move in swiftly and make arrests based on some of the statements made at the PPAC.

There are already claims, counter claims, allegations, counter allegations and turn-coating going on among some of the protagonists.

There is a hint of threat of physical violence to suppress some of the findings. Apart from the police, we must be prepared to make citizens' arrest of bullies and hand them in. And if that leads to civil war, so be it.

I have no mercy for anyone who compromises our health. They must rot at Bomana and hell afterwards, if there is in fact something called a hell.

I fully support the work of the PPAC and strongly endorse the approach by governor Juffa.

Let the clean up begin.

Paul Oates

You left out fishing and mines, Phil. Still the Public Accounts Committee has made a huge step in the right direction. Those involved should be supported and encouraged.

The next step, after responsibility has now been revealed and recorded, is accountability. Since most of us already knew before hand about those responsible, the next step will be that much harder to enact and follow through, since there has been a long period to cover up or obfuscate any audit trails.

Has there yet been an asset freeze of those already implicated?

There also needs to be a careful watch at the airport by whichever authority is 'overseeing' the 'holiday plans' of some of those named by the Committee.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When this one is finished, Marape needs to organise enquiries into the Department of Lands & Physical Planning and then the Department of Forests.

When those two are done the the Department of Education needs tackling.

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