Take action against those responsible for purchasing defective ventilators: CAP

GEORGE TOWN: The Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) wants more to be done to demand accountability from those responsible for their dereliction of duty in the purchase of defective ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the different parties responsible for the "clear negligence" in the scandal exposed by the Auditor-General's Report must be identified and punished.

"CAP demands the authorities to take action against those responsible for purchasing the defective ventilators, procured by the Health Ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said today.

Mohideen said, during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the cabinet was informed of the need for 800 ventilators, following which the ministry had approved RM30 million to a company to purchase 500 units of ventilators.

He said due to supply constraints, the company managed to secure only 136 ventilator units for RM20.12 million, a price reported to be four times higher than the usual rate.

However, it was found that 104 out of the 136 ventilators purchased were unusable.

On Oct 30, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said no action could be taken over the issue as there was an absence of a written agreement between the ministry and the company involved, Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB).

"The PAC has failed in its duty to uncover those accountable for the purchase of the unusable ventilators. The reason that there was no formal written contract is unacceptable.

"There would be documentary and oral evidence of the process leading to the purchase of the faulty ventilators which would disclose if there was any gross negligence, or even corruption, on the part of those involved in the decision-making.

"The PAC should have recommended that the law enforcement agencies investigate the case and take necessary action against those culpable. As life-saving equipment like ventilators were so vital during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is shocking that such negligence had occurred," he added.

Mohideen said the faulty ventilators not only wasted public funds but also put the lives of patients at risk.

The PAC report, he noted, said the culture of accountability was almost non-existent in the public procurement system where 104 out of the 136 ventilators ordered were unusable.

He said the deals on emergency procurement of ventilators were done via WhatsApp.

"Even in the face of a pandemic, the official procurement confirmation should come through a proper supply contract with clear specifications of the product, the warranties, suppliers' obligations on the testing and commissioning, deliverables and technical support.

"The procurement must follow the set standard operating procedure (SOP) of the ministry.

"Despite not having experience and expertise in medical equipment procurement, the company was instructed to make advance payments for ventilators following its existing relationship with the ministry. The deal was secured based on the visual impression that the ventilators in the brochure met the ministry's requirements," he pointed out.

According to the PAC report, the ventilators were unusable as the plug point differed from the plug point used in Malaysia.

However, each ventilator had different problems in terms of hardware, accessories, and software.

The procurement involved 11 ventilator models from four different manufacturers.

Mohideen said it is also shocking that three ministries had appointed the company to be a middleman to supply 136 ventilators, which eventually cost RM24.1 million inclusive of warranties and upgrade services.

"What happened to the integrity and compliance unit within the Health Ministry, which is required to oversee all purchases, when established procedures were not complied with in the purchase of the ventilators?" he asked.

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