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Minister pledges transparency over medical supply chain

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KUALA LUMPUR — Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has emphasised his commitment to transparency amid an uproar over an alleged monopoly of the medical supply chain by companies allegedly owned by Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians.

“We will ensure the supply chain process is efficient, responsible, transparent,” he tweeted yesterday in response to another Twitter post by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) colleague Fahmi Fadzil.

“The aspiration of the PH government is to ensure and repair whatever apparent weaknesses, and will address any form of wastage (leakages including wrongdoings if proven).”

Fahmi, who is the Lembah Pantai MP, had urged the government to stop the medical supply monopoly after a purported industry insider blew the whistle on 20 companies allegedly owned by prominent BN politicians, including a former minister, that had acted as “tendering agents”.

It was alleged that international pharmaceutical companies only dealt with these agents to ensure a monopoly of the supply chain.

A 12-page file containing names and details of the allegation was reported to have been submitted to Dzulkefly for his action.

The document named personalities, including members of royalty and former senior civil servants.

Recently, Dzulkefly announced the setting up of a taskforce to study the ministry’s medical supply practices.

He said the taskforce would be studying the feasibility of a health procurement ombudsman’s office empowered to investigate and review procurement practices.

The reports would be made public.

According to the 12-page document that was sent to the media and sighted by Malay Mail, the 20 companies had acted as “tendering agents” over a four-year period from 2013, reaping contracts collectively worth RM3.7 billion.

The document also revealed that there were only a few agents that carried out tendering and acted for more than 70 pharmaceutical companies.

Meanwhile, the Medical Practitioners Coalition Association (MPCAM) urged the government to declassify all medical-related contracts.

Its president Dr Peter Chan Teck Hock said there were many agreements, including health screening for foreign workers, which had been sealed under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

“All this must be reviewed as the information was never made public,” he said in a statement.

Dr Chan said the association supported the Malaysian Medical Association’s call for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate the alleged multi-billion medical supply monopoly.

“If this allegation is true, it would surely have increased the cost of healthcare. It’s a great dereliction of duty on the part of the guardians of the sick and downtrodden in this country,” he said.

A health policy research group also proposed the establishment of an independent body to review the ministry’s medical supply and services procurement practices.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said urgent reforms were needed in the sector.

“With the health burden and challenges posed by the increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases, an ageing population and complexity of health needs, we cannot afford a trust deficit in our national public healthcare system,” he said in a statement.

Azrul said the revelation highlighted the complicated processes behind the country’s healthcare system that were putting a heavy strain on the government’s budget.

He said an independent body should be tasked to review the ministry’s procurement practices and offer its recommendations.

Azrul said transparency was needed to prevent future leakages running into billions of ringgit.

“The appointment of an independent ombudsman has the potential to regain, strengthen and sustain the confidence of Malaysians in the public procurement system,” he said.