Tk 30cr lost in irregular purchase of Covid-19 medical equipment
Public hospitals in the capital purchased medical equipment at astronomical prices during the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, according to an audit report.
The Comptroller and Auditor General in the audit report found that the government lost at least Tk 29.94 crore of the Tk 320.23 crore it spent during the early stages of the pandemic due to such irregularities in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The first cases of Covid were detected in the country in early March 2020.
The report was placed in parliament in the last budget session in June this year.
According to the audit report obtained by this newspaper recently, Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital (KBFGH) in the capital's Uttara bought two ECG Machines at Tk 6.25 lakh each when the market price was Tk 1.99 lakh.
Kurmitola General Hospital purchased a high-flow oxygen therapy device for Tk 7.5 lakh from a supplier when its price was Tk 4.9 lakh. Mugda General Hospital bought a Video Laryngoscope -- a device that allows indirect visualisation of the vocal cords -- for Tk 6.25 lakh when its price was Tk 1.99 lakh.
The report also found similar financial irregularities in purchase of medical and surgical requisites (MSR) and Covid-19 quarantine expenditure of 15 public medical college hospitals and specialised healthcare institutions in the capital.
The gulf of difference between the buying and the market prices was also seen in procurement of drugs and pathological accessories.
Take, for instance, KBFGH's procurement of Meropenem 1gm injection, a high-end antibiotic used to treat severe infection.
When it was priced at Tk 1,300, they bought 1,000 of the injections for Tk 2,210 each and 6,500 of them for Tk 1,955 each. Through this procurement of a single drug, the government lost a total of Tk 51.675 lakh, the report said.
Authorities of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Disease and Hospital misappropriated Tk 18.55 lakh in purchasing echocardiography paper and reagent at a price much higher than the market rate, the report added.
It also found irregularities in the payment of quarantine bills for medical professionals to various contracted residential hotels in the city.
Mugda General Hospital authorities signed a contract with the Asia Hotel and Resort in Dhaka for Tk 2,950 per day for each of its 45 rooms.
But the hotel was paid an additional Tk 15.90 lakh every day between 23 April and 17 May in 2020 for renting more rooms, which the hotel did not have, the report said.
Dhaka Medical College Hospital authorities made additional payments ofTk 6 lakh to Hotel New York in Dhaka, the report added.
The differences between buying and market prices and anomalies in quarantine bills reflected the long-heard irregularities and incapacity in public procurement in the health sector, experts said.
"If any of the doctors [hospital directors] are really misappropriating money from these purchases, they must be punished. But before blaming them a reality check is a must, because doctors are often helpless in front of the syndicates," Syed Abdul Hamid, a professor at the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University, told The Daily Star recently.
He said the existing public purchase procedure has many flaws which need to be revised.
"We have studied that many competent doctors do not want to take charge of the healthcare organisations. Many hospital directors do not even want to spend the allocated money to avoid audit hassle," said Hamid.
He also said the doctors lack skills related to public procurement. "They often fail to negotiate properly."
Asked, Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, additional secretary (Financial Management and Audit) at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, informed that they have received additional audit objection of Tk 10 crore, in addition to Tk 29.94 crore mentioned in the 2021 audit report.
"We have received replies against half of the audit objections and we have forwarded those to the auditor general's office with recommendations," Mohammad Shahadat Hossain told The Daily Star on Wednesday.
"There is no scope for defending any anomalies. Simultaneously, we have to consider that quarantine arrangements and ensuring timely medical supplies were a big challenge during the beginning of Covid-19 emergency."