quarta-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2013

Finance Minister "Trips" Over HNGV Beds

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Tempo Semanal - Wednesday, 27 February 2013

In recent times the finance minister (M F) Emilia Pires has tried to keep her distance from the media. The only statements she has made in response to journalists trying to interview her are "no comment" or "sorry". Why?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013, the debate on the General Budget Of The State for 2013 became heated. During this Finance Minister Emilia Pires angrily condemned the Timor-Leste media.

"Many times, our media is still lacking in ability to properly undertake investigative journalism. The media likes to manipulate things. Just to bring people down. Carelessly. Writing falsehoods. Writing other things. I tell them sorry," the finance minister yelled angrily.

At that time a number of journalists were at the national parliament covering the debate could only stare at each other in amazement. Others put on an innocent face. "Why did the finance minister scream at the media? Who in the media? She should not make generalizations about the media," protested Francisco Simoes, a journalist from the Diario Nacional.

The day before, on Tuesday, 5 February 2013, during the plenary session deputy Aurelio Freitas from the FRETILIN opposition bench condemned the Finance Minister having given a government contract to Mr. Warren McLeod (the finance minister's husband). "Because it's easy money, everybody is madly running to become a supplier. Including (sorry to say) the ministers husband involving in procurement," Aurelio said.

During the same session deputy Osorio Florindo also strongly condemned the conduct of the Finance Minister. "I ask the members of government, especially the Finance Minister, what sort of ethics do you have to write an opinion to the Prime Minister to use the contingency fund money to award a government contract which went to your husband?" asked Florindo.

IRONY

This problem began when the Ministry of Health indicated the company Mac' Metalcraft as the supplier for a bunch of bids to the Guido Valadares National Hospital. Documents obtained by Tempo Semanal showed that it was a single source government contract paid from the contingency fund of the government in the amount of US$895,140. It also showed the director of the company in question being the husband of the Finance Minister.

The irony was in the fact that the supply of the hospital beds was done without the knowledge of the director general of the Guido Valadares national Hospital. "We had no knowledge of the process to buy these beds. I had no knowledge of it," said Odette in her office.

On 21 March 2012, according to Odette, as the director general of the HNGV she had merely written a requisition letter number ref. 130/Adm/HNGV/III/2012 to the former deputy minister of health Madalena Hanjan. This letter asked for the procurement of equipment needed by the hemodialysis unit of the HNGV. No request was made for the equipment that was supplied by Mac's Metalcraft.

Another irony emerged when the list attached to the letter (see list below), of urgent equipment requested by the director-general of HNGV, were listed together with a list of other items that were supplied by the company Mac's Metalcraft. "The equipment we requested as urgent has arrived and has already been used by us. They were 2 hemodialysis units with their beds," said Dr. Odette.

What about the electric beds supplied by the company Mac's Metalcraft? "To this day many of those items of equipment we are yet to use or distribute to other national hospitals or referral hospitals. They are stored in the HNGV store room, awaiting the dispatch from the Minister of health," the head of the Medical Equipment Management Department, Abilio Afonso Brites told Tempo Semanal.

SUSPICION. There are some aspects that are not right about the process for the supply of the beds to the HNGV, because some servants of the state used the letter of requisition from the director general of the HNGV to justify additional budget funds, which had already been prepared in February 2012.

NOT AN EMERGENCY

The controversy of the suspected single source of a government project by the Finance Minister to her husband has aroused a great deal of public debate and statements from civil society and the media.

"If this information is true, CAC and the Office Of the Public Prosecutor must investigate. If this is really the truth, then it is an extremely grave issue. The Finance Minister approving funds to benefit her own husband, that would be big corruption, if it is true," said the former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

The executive director of FONGTIL, Arsenio Pereira da Silva has said that civil society and the media have an important role to play in exercising civic oversight over state matters and public assets. Especially regarding the national budget, because this is the people's money.

José Neves from the Anti-Corruption Commission (CAC) acknowledged that this single source government contract could not be classified as an emergency. He suspects there has been a conspiracy or conflict of interest involving this supply mechanism of the HNGV equipment.

"The equipment that was supplied by the company Mac's Metalcraft does not fall within the category of emergency. They just simply made up this criteria," indicated the deputy commissioner of the Anticorruption Commission.

The quotation documents presented by Warren McLeod, director of the company Mac's Metalcraft, listed some items of equipment such as electric beds in the value of US$895,140, for the contract defined as an emergency.

He also suspected that, the supplied by of this great equipment was not properly in accordance with tender procedures as set out in the Procurement Law. "You can single source. However, before you enter that phase, you must undertake normal procedures. That is so as to avoid conflicts of interest. Acquiring these beds does not fall into the emergency category," said Neves.

Some documents show that the Finance Minister was personally aware of the proposal being from her husband's company to be the supplier of the beds that were determined to be in the emergency category.

These documents also show, that regarding this single source contract, the former deputy minister of health Madalena Hanjan wrote to Prime Minister Xanana, and also copied it to the Finance Minister. However, Emilia did not intervene, simply ignoring it enabling her husband to win the contract in question. "Whenever there is a failure to distinguish this conflict-of-interest, the law is breached, José Neves said.

Warren McLeod the director of the company Mac's Metalcraft told Tempo Seminal that he acknowledged his involvement in the procurement process for the HNGV equipment. "That's right. I supplied some material to the hospital. The contract fell within the category of an emergency," he said.

Warren McLeod submitted a written quotation to the Ministry of Health on 24 February 2012. It was submitted immediately after the Finance Minister approved the budget requested by the Deputy Minister of Health. "I have already been given contracts previously (before the emergency project)," Warren said.

The public condemnation of the Timor-Leste media by the Finance Minister aroused a strong reaction from the Timor-Leste Press Club (TL PC), as well as the Timor-Leste Journalists Association (A JTL). A press conference recently the Timor-Leste Media Association publicly declared their lament with the Finance Minister's conduct, which denigrated the Timor-Leste media in the National Parliament.

"The Finance Minister does have a right to respond to media reports that she feels adversely affected by. She should not just say no comment or sorry when confronted with the media. Specially not denigrate the credibility of the Timor-Leste media as the Finance Minister has done in front of the National Parliament," said the Tempo Semanal director José Belo.

Belo also asked the Finance Minister, "Does Madam Minister know? Who is the owner of the company Mac's Metalcraft? Perhaps Madam Minister knows who Warren MacLeod is? These are questions for you," said Belo.
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