IT ALL BEGAN BACK IN SEPTEMBER last year when Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill announced that the Borneo Pacific Pharmaceutical company (BPP), owned by Malaysian interests, would be given a contract to supply PNG pharmaceuticals.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop then announced that her government would not support this decision as BPP did not have the ISO 9001 quality rating and this implied their procurement methods were not up to a standard where they could be trusted to maintain a supply of good quality drugs.
There had been a history of trouble in the supply of medical kits and Australia had come to PNG’s aid and contributed millions of kina to aid their distribution. But the BPP decision was a bridge too far for Ms Bishop.
It also seems to have had the same effect on many Papua New Guineans. There have been many people commenting in social media in PNG and many have contributed articles on the medical kits supply saga.
Over the last five months I have been following comments on the Facebook group, PNG News, set up by Charlie Gilichibi, which has over 65,000 members.
So far there have been 308 comments on this topic: by PNG public servants, health department officials, pharmaceutical professionals, doctors and concerned citizens. People educated enough to know that there is a problem and willing to try to do something to solve it.
One person has supplied me with a copy of the Good Procurement Manual published by the PNG Central Supply and Tenders Board (CSTB) to help government departments get value for money from their contracts.
It was CSTB that recommended that the National Executive Council award the contract to BPP. Prime MinisterPeter O’Neill later referred to the “rigorous tendering process”.
For a long time now, I have realised that many of the corruption allegations in PNG go back to problems with tenders, where corrupt individuals can get away with stealing millions of kina of government money. Some of the PNG News contributors are very suspicious of CSTB and feel it is open to bribery.
Two of PNG’s leading medical experts disclosed how there were two other companies that had tendered. Their prices were lower than BPP and they were also quality assured.
So it appeared that BPP had somehow got an inside run from the PNG government, the Health Department or CSTB.
PNG doctors have united to ask the government to reconsider the decision to award the contract to BPP and written to Mr O’Neill, but so far he has not replied.
Next Monday, the Community Coalition Against Corruption (CCAC) is holding an open forum on this topic in Port Moresby from 10am -12 noon. It’s for health workers and medical professionals and is being held in the New Lecture Theatre at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Taurama. The forum is supported by Transparency International and the Media Council of PNG.
In addition, some members of PNG News are planning to approach the PNG Independent Consumer and Competition Commission (ICCC) who work to protect consumer interests but have clearly not been asked to take part in any of the discussion on Borneo Pacific Pharmaceuticals.
One correspondent wrote recently –
We (PNG) don’t quite appreciate democracy and its privileges as yet, as maybe other countries who have gone through civil war and blood shed.
We are in a better scenario, for the nation to appreciate sovereignty and democracy through the issues we are experiencing today.
Too many people hold pretentious views by comparing us with other countries and developing high expectations without acknowledging the reality that 70% are illiterate and we lack the industries that are key to enable us.
We have been given our independence on a golden plate, we must go through our trials and tribulations like everybody else, its nature. That is where we are.
As a former teacher of many of today’s educated leaders in PNG, I will continue to support them as they struggle to come to grips with how to run the country in a thoughtful, compassionate and just way without bribery and corruption.