ACC’s unflattering report on the health directorate: Graft must be rooted out

The Daily Star  June 28, 2020

It is not shocking that the Anti-Corruption Commission sent a report to the health ministry revealing widespread irregularities in the purchase of medicine, surgical equipment and other machines carried out by a nexus of contractors and officials from different organisations within the ministry. Making a quick buck out of public procurement is hardly a novel practice. But what is most outrageous as a report in this daily has found, is the lack of action taken during the 16 months since the report had been submitted. The consequence of looking the other way has been the proliferation of defective N95 masks, PPE and other safety gear during the present pandemic and no doubt more misappropriation of precious funds for healthcare.

The ACC chairman in a written letter has not minced words: Had the health ministry followed the ACC’s recommendations made last year, unbridled corruption in the health sector could have been reined in. We are bewildered why this report was not taken seriously within this time. Why the health ministry did not monitor the activities of contractors and various organisations under it that are responsible for procuring these essential items. Why the valuable recommendations of the ACC were not given any weight?

Coming to the present scenario, in April the health directorate was heavily criticised for providing substandard respirators to frontline doctors and other medical staff. There were also allegations that regular masks were supplied to various hospitals but labelled as N95 masks and a government probe recommended action against the supplier but nothing has so far been done. On June 18 the ACC formed a committee to probe the allegation.

At a time when we are facing the most formidable health crisis in history, it is a travesty that several doctors were transferred after they raised questions over the standard of masks, gloves and PPE suits supplied to the hospitals. How can we expect doctors to continue to treat patients when they are not given protective gear?

According to the report on December 12 last year, the ACC sent a letter to the health ministry asking it to blacklist 14 medical equipment suppliers, who were found involved in misappropriation of public money worth about Tk 108 crore in several graft cases. Why did it take six months to blacklist these companies? Didn’t it allow them to continue with their corrupt practice?

We commend the ACC for its diligent investigation and important recommendations. We are relieved that it has decided to continue probing purchase of safety gear and testing kits. But the health directorate must hold responsible all public officials and organisations under it involved in these anomalies and take immediate action. All corrupt elements must be weeded out. Otherwise the ministry will continue to bleed in terms of funds meant for public health and more health practitioners and patients will die.

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