CIAA begins probe into medical procurement deal

KATHMANDU, April 10: The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has said that it has already started a probe into the controversial medical equipment procurement deal signed between the government and a business firm to supply medical essentials required to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The business firm, Omni Group, and health officials including Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, have been dragged into controversy after it was found that the government paid three times higher the price for the equipment. The logistics were procured from China and the government-favored business firm was awarded the contract for the supply of essential medical equipment without an open completion. Before awarding the contract to the firm, the Department of Health Services had scrapped a public tender.

“A complaint has been registered at the commission. And investigation is underway into the matter,” said CIAA’s Spokesperson Pradeep Kumar Koirala.

Even as Spokesperson Koirala refused to share anything about the investigation progress, informed sources say the anti-graft body has already seized procurement related documents. Investigators have already interrogated Mahendra Bahadur Shrestha, director general at the Department of Health Services.

It’s not clear whether CIAA interrogated other health officials and ministers in connection with the scam. When asked whether they had interrogated other health officials and political leadership, Spokesperson Koirala refused to share anything saying ‘matters related to an investigation shouldn’t be publicized until the probe process completes’.

The department, which initially awarded the contract to Omni Group to supply medical equipment from China without any open competition, has already scrapped the agreement citing that the company was unable to supply the logistics in time. The company, according to health officials involved in the procurement deal, could supply only 10 percent of the total demand by the time when the deadline expired. Many suspect that officials including the line minister and top-level bureaucrats are linked to “the irregularities that took place while procuring the medical logistics.”

The government had initially awarded the contract to Omni Group without an open competition and the price of logistics was three times higher than what some private hospitals had paid to purchase the same logistics. Under enormous pressure from some party leaders and opposition parties, the government terminated the procurement deal.

Immediately after terminating the procurement deal, the government entrusted the Nepal Army with the responsibility for arranging medical equipment. The decision, however, is not free from controversy. Dissatisfaction is rife among politicians and the general public for mandating the army to supply medical equipment at a time when one of the strongest governments is in place.

They have defined the government’s move as a failure to handle the situation whereas other argue the army was trusted to supply the medical equipment to avoid any probe of the anti-graft body even in case of corruption.

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