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PM: Procedure skirted

PM: Procedure skirted

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Public servants managing the Ministry of Health’s Cuban Integrated Health Programme (CIHP) skirted procedure, but that does not mean that there was corruption, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Friday, August 13.{{more}}

However Gonsalves did not go as far as Minister of Health Dr. Douglas Slater, who last week defended the “integrity” of his staff in the face of a damning audit of the CIHP.

The Director of Audit uncovered misappropriation of funds, wastage of resources and missing stock in relation to the CIHP programme.

Gonsalves, speaking on We FM’s Shake-Up, said that until he gets “evidence to the contrary”, he is siding with Slater and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Lanceford Weekes, who both denied corruption in the programme.

While Gonsalves said auditors “found a lot of things which were wrong”, he added that “there was not a single charge of corruption against a politician.”

He further said the existence of independent audits shows that the system works under his Unity Labour Party (ULP) government.

Gonsalves said CIHP administrators did not use virement warrants to obtain permission to use the programme’s funds for other purposes.

He said this was the case when $2,200 logged for upholstering a CIHP vehicle, was in fact used to repair damage to a private vehicle said to have been involved in an accident in which a Ministry of Health vehicle was culpable.

Gonsalves, in his capacity as Minister of Finance, must sign all virement warrants, which allows money to be transferred among programmes.

He said these same procedures were flouted when 12 of 25 tyres purchased by the Ministry in one year where booked as having been bought for a CIHP vehicle.

He said this was a “word of mouth” explanation he had received, while he awaits a report from Permanent Secretary Weekes.

Gonsalves further said CIHP administrators would have to explain why they ignored Tenders Board procedures in buying computer equipment and supplies and the leasing of apartments for CIHP health professionals.

He echoed his health minister in saying that the purchases of KFC meals last year August were for CIHP staff performing duties related to the arrival of a CIHP health professional from Cuba.

The Director of Audit said the meals purchased over the three-day period were “exorbitant”.

Gonsalves said while treating the ancillary staff to a meal was “reasonable” it was also “wrong”.

“If you are going to pay for five people, that must be a policy taken [by the government],” he said.

He said CIHP managers would have to justify the purchases of KFC meals between November and December 2009, since the report suggests they had no legitimate reasons to do so.

While Gonsalves said he could not accuse public servants of being corrupt in the absence of evidence, he also said he did not know the individual public servants.

“Dr. Slater says he knows them and he can vouch for their good conduct and honestly. But it is not an issue simply of vouching for their good conduct and honestly. …That’s one issue. You have to do the job properly and this is an issue for the public servants. This is not an accusation against any minister,” Gonsalves said.

He further said that Weekes would address the Director of Audits concerns in a report, adding that the situation is a lesson for public servants.

“Public servants need to be careful in making sure they don’t take shortcuts. … But that does not mean that because you took the shortcut that is corruption. But there can possibly be corruption,” Gonsalves said.

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