Couple of are surprised by accounts of corruption on Sri Lanka’s mega-projects such as highways, ports and airports. These were extensively rumoured at the time and hardly come as a surprise. But even as President Maithripala Sirisena struggles to implement the Senaka Bibile drug policy reforms in an attempt to reduce healthcare charges, emerging revelations from the Health Ministry cast shadows more than the transparency of a multi-billion rupee cancer remedy project inherited from the former government.
Anatomy of a Scam
The project appears to have had its origins in a proposal drafted by Drs Mahendra Perera (Board Chairman for Oncology) and Jayantha Balawardane (Senior Consultant Oncologist at the National Cancer Insitute, Maharagama), which was then submitted to the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists. Sensibly, the proposal known as for a transition from the outdated Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machines to much more modern day linear accelerators. It was adopted at the College’s annual general meeting and submitted to the Ministry of Health, now dubbed “Provision of High High quality Radiotherapy for Cancer Individuals in Sri Lanka with Higher Power Radiation”.
The Treasury then went on to make a provision of Rs 900 million for the project in 2014, Rs 2,750 million in 2015, Rs two,640 million in 2016 and a additional Rs 800 million for 2017. The total commit on the project? A hefty Rs 7,090 million. To place it in perspective, the worth of this single project (Rs 7 billion) is equivalent to the annual equipment spending budget for all 550 hospitals beneath the Ministry of Wellness for two years.
According to the Monetary Regulations, the process for making any procurement for the government is a public get in touch with for tenders, sometimes preceded by a prequalification procedure. In the present case, however, there was no prequalification approach. Neither was there a contact for tenders. Instead, a decision was created arbitrarily to make this enormous obtain from the UK branch of a Swedish business called Elekta. The local distributor for Elekta is Siyol International (Private) Limited, situated on the second floor of Bible Residence in Colombo 3. Incredibly, the decision to make this purchase from Elekta—in strict secrecy and flagrantly violating tender procedure— was regardless of the reality that there are at least four reputed international producers of healthcare linear accelerators. Elekta, even so, basically named its price and the Health Ministry paid up. According to market insiders, the costs being paid by the Ministry exceed industry rates by more than 50%, a rorting of the public purse and raising queries as to who the beneficiaries of this largesse are.
The UAE Deal
Elekta had been unheard of until the government of the United Arab Emirates was approached for the gift of two multimillion dollar brachytherapy units, for the Maharagama cancer institute and Teaching Hospital Kandy. Once again no tenders have been called. Instead, the gear was bought through Siyol with no transparency or competitive bidding. So cynical has the scheme grow to be that Siyol proudly lists “Coordinating with the UAE Embassy for the donation of 02 Nos Brachytherapy units” in its Corporate Social Responsibility report, as if this had been an act of charity. But the query remains: Who suggested Elekta and its agent Siyol without having any transparent procedure?
For the linear accelerator deal, nonetheless, Elekta and Siyol brought in a third organization, Philips Electronics (Israel) Restricted. Elekta had acquired the Radiotherapy Division of Philips Health-related Systems and now had an added front beneath which to do enterprise. Hans Barella, former President and CEO of Philips Healthcare Systems now sits on Elekta’s board. What is a lot more, functioning out of Israel indicates not becoming topic to the tedious anticorruption regulations of the European Union, or the draconian Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of the United States. The deal had by now reached astronomical proportions, with plans to supply 13 a lot more linear accelerators, together with a host of ancillary equipment. These contain eight Massive Bore Philips CT simulators at a value of US$ 15 million (Rs 2000 million) and nine IBT Bebig brachytherapy units for US$ 6 million (Rs 810 million). For its portion, Elekta (UK) would supply 13 a lot more linear accelerators at a mind-boggling Rs 3200 million. In all, the consortium would walk off with much more than Rs 7000 million in public funds. Amazingly for so huge a project, Philips (Israel) refused to give a detailed breakdown of fees even when requested to do so by the Well being Ministry (Image 1).
A Significantly-travelled Engineer
The technical specialist to sign off on the project was S.A.J. Karunatilaka, an engineer attached to the Wellness Ministry’s Division of Biomedical Engineering Solutions primarily based on de Saram Road, Colombo ten. Details now in the hands of Colombo Telegraph (see image two) show that this individual had been caught red-handed, creating as numerous as 15 secret, unauthorised overseas trips over the past many years. Whilst the sources of funding for these trips are as but unknown, the matter of locating out who paid for them is child’s play given that a schedule of the relevant flights has been obtained from the Division of Immigration and Emigration (see Image three). But, the Ministry of Well being has failed to interdict this officer, report him to the Bribery Commission or even investigate a lot of other multimillion rupee deals with which he was linked.
Documents the Colombo Telegraph has seen show that these deals consist of not only procurements for the Ministry of Wellness, but also for the Ministry of Larger Education, the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy. These projects incorporate “Supply of Healthcare Equipment to the Health-related Faculties of Rajarata and Eastern Universities and the Faculty of Allied Well being Sciences of the University of Peradeniya” for the Ministry of Larger Education for Rs 750 million”, “Purchase of Single-Place Floor Mounted C-arm System” for the Sri Lanka Army for Rs 86.eight million, and a “Digital Radiography System” for the Sri Lanka Navy for Rs 65.9 million. Sources in the Army and Navy state that these deals are being separately investigated by them for improper procurement procedure.
All this begs the query, why was an officer found guilty of undertaking 15 foreign trips with no official approval, and blatantly utilizing undeclared sources of earnings, permitted to sit on such essential technical procurement committees? Why did the Secretary of the Ministry of Overall health not inform the Secretary of the Ministry of Larger Education and the commanders of the Army and Navy that S.A.J. Karunatilaka had been found guilty of critical misconduct in a formal ministerial inquiry? Was it so that these bargains could proceed with no further scrutiny?
The question also remains as to who it was that decided to subvert the government’s procurement process and award this enormous contract to a single supplier with no calling for tenders. Such a decision can have only come from extremely high indeed. Asked for a comment by Colombo Telegraph Dr Jayantha Balawardane denied ever asking that this procurement be produced from Elekta with out calling for open tenders. “We only requested high energy linear accelerators with associated equipments”, he said. “We have not requested or specified any certain brands at any stage in our proposal.” Asked why no tenders had been known as for this multibillion-rupee procurement, which clearly violated the government’s tender process, Dr Balawardane stated “I am not involved in [this] process”, placing the ball squarely in the Ministry’s court.
Yahapalanaya on Trial
The query now ahead of Rajitha Senaratne, who presides over the ministry that President Maithripala Sirisena himself in a speech at Maharagama last week described as “the most corrupt ministry” in the country, is what action to take? Should this multibillion rupee scam be swept beneath the carpet (with the implication that the new administration as well, is complicit in it), or should a public inquiry take spot to find out why no tenders were called and on what basis the astronomical prices quoted by Elekta and Philips (Israel) were accepted as being reasonable. This, after all, is precisely the type of wasteful and extravagant excess the Widespread Candidate bemoaned publicly and swore to investigate and eradicate. That stated, will the government reside up to its guarantee?
© Colombo Telegraph- oooTiHa