Bribery probe into awarding gloves tender to unregistered supplier

Political lackey behind Rs. 56 million deal?

By Suresh Perera

Amidst continuing allegations of widespread corruption in the state health sector, bribery sleuths are now probing a shocking multi-million rupee deal where a tender for a consignment of surgical gloves had been awarded to a supplier who didn’t even have the basic Cosmetic Devices and Drugs Regulatory Authority (CDDRA) registration to bid.

The stock had been cleared from the port on a ‘no objection’ letter issued by the CDDRA, which officials said was "unimaginable" because such sanction is granted only to import life saving, emergency medical supplies.

Ms. Lakshmi Jayawickrama, Director-General, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIAOBC), was overseas last week, but an official assured that a full-scale probe is continuing."I cannot comment as investigations are ongoing", he noted. "The Commission understands the serious nature of the complaint and is moving in the matter".

The tender for the supply of consignments of sizes 6.5 (1.5 million pairs) and 7.5 surgical gloves (150,000 pairs) valued at Rs. 56 million was awarded to this supplier based on the undertaking that stocks will be procured from China and provided at Rs. 32/50 per pair, which industry officials considered unrealistic due to soaring global production costs and foreign exchange fluctuations.

"However, it had later transpired that the supplier was a mere third party which had procured a part of the consignments from Green Band Foods, an Indian company and not from China, as agreed", they said.

As attempts to bring down the balance at the quoted price failed, desperate local purchases of 150,000 pairs of Chinese-made gloves had been made from another importer contrary to tender guidelines, the officials claimed.

The global market price of a premium quality Malaysian gloves is in the range of Rs. 52, but as the supplier had quoted a low Rs. 32/50 per pair, attempts are now underway to reclaim VAT from the Medical Supplies Division (MSD) though the tender indicated an ‘all inclusive price’, they explained.

"I am not personally aware of this case, but in my view, seeking ‘no objection’ letters should not be the practice as medical consignments should be procured in advance", says Dr. Nihal Jayathilake, Secretary to the Health Ministry.

It should be done without waiting until the last moment, he pointed out. "The CDDRA takes full responsibility for any such letters issued".

"Two other longstanding suppliers shortlisted for the bid were dropped in favor of the unregistered bidder, despite quoting down-to-earth prices taking into account premium quality and standards and realistic global pricing structures", the officials said.

The stocks procured from India by this supplier were not up to the mark, they pointed out. "But, obviously this kind of jugglery is done by those with political clout, they explained. "A major part of these consignments were dispatched to outstation hospitals".

That’s why it has become necessary to wear two pair of gloves – one over the other – for surgical procedures to prevent contamination, a surgeon, who asked not to be named, complained. "With substandard products, we simply cannot take a risk".

It is no secret amongst industry players that a pharmaceuticals company closely associated with a person who describes himself as a "Coordinating Secretary to the Minister" and also doubles up, when it suits him, as a "Medical Advisor" was behind this deal, officials asserted. "That’s the bottom line".

How can a lesser mortal not only influence the awarding of a tender to an unregistered supplier, but also secure a ‘no objection’ letter?, they queried. "These are feats beyond an ordinary human being".

A complaint has also been lodged with the Special Presidential Investigations Unit regarding the alleged irregularities in awarding this tender, but officials say the outcome of the protests remain to be seen as "this nephew of a powerful minister used political clout to complete his one-year post medical internship in six months by securing a letter from a former health secretary".

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