Govt procured ventilators via WhatsApp during Covid-19 pandemic, says PAC

PETALING JAYA: Deals on the emergency procurement of ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic had to be done through WhatsApp due to the sheer urgency of the situation, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on the management of the Covid-19 outbreak revealed.

The Committee found that 104 of the 136 ventilators supplied by Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB) to the Health Ministry during the pandemic were defective, but no party was able to take responsibility as there was a lack of a written agreement between the PLSB and the Health Ministry.

It also said in the report that PLSB was directed to make an advance payment for the ventilators due to its existing relationship with the Health Ministry, despite the company having no experience and expertise in the procurement of medical equipment such as ventilators.

“Due to the extraordinary situation the world was facing at the time, emergency procurement was implemented to obtain supplies such as vaccines, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic,” said the committee.

It added that discussions, evaluation and decisions on the procurement of ventilators had to be implemented outside of the norm through WhatsApp due to the constraints during the movement control order (MCO) and the urgency factor as well as the dire situation at that time.

“Despite having no experience and expertise in the procurement of medical equipment such as ventilators, PLSB has been directed to make an advance payment for ventilators because of the existing relationship between the Health Ministry and PLSB,” said the Committee.

It added that the absence of a written agreement between the Health Ministry and the PLSB meant that no party was able to take responsibility for the 104 ventilator units that could not function.

“Due to the uncertainty of PLSB's role in this matter, legal action could not be taken,” read the report on the PAC’s investigation on expired vaccines, defective ventilators and excess PPE under the Health Ministry published on the official Parliament website on Monday (Oct 30).

The committee also said in its report that it found that there were discrepancies in information between the Health Ministry’s statement and the PLSB on the existence of a warranty for all 136 ventilators.

A review of the price quotation document submitted by the PLSB to the PAC indicated that the warranty had been specified by the supplier.

However, the PAC found that the document did not comprise all 136 ventilators and there was no acknowledgement of receipt.

On March 25, 2020, the Cabinet was informed about the need for 800 units of ventilators, whereby 300 units were for replacement of existing equipment and the remaining 500 to fulfill new needs.

Following that, the Health Ministry’s top management had asked for assistance from the PLSB to aid the ministry in getting ventilators from manufacturing countries, especially China.

According to the PAC’s findings, this was the first time that the Health Ministry procured that particular brand of ventilators from China.

In line with the approval from the Finance Ministry, the Health Ministry approved an advance payment of RM30mil to the PLSB to procure 500 units of ventilators, with the balance to be paid after the supply has been received.

A total 136 ventilators were supplied to the health facilities under the Health Ministry during the period between April 1, 2020 to May 19, 2020, costing RM20.1mil.

After the ventilators arrived, they did not pass the testing and commissioning (T&C) review although prior checks on the specifications had been conducted by Health Ministry experts based on the product brochures obtained.

T&C of the ventilators found that only 28 were usable, 93 unusable and 15 units were able to be returned to the overseas manufacturer for replacements.

An additional RM3.97mil was then approved for PLSB to upgrade certain ventilators, increasing the cost of the overall procurement of 136 ventilators to RM24.07mil.

From the 15 units that were replaced, only four units could be used making a total of 104

ventilator unusable out of 136 units obtained.

“The issue with all the ventilators was that the ventilator plug point differed from the plug point used in Malaysia.

“The ventilators could only be turned on after the plug points were upgraded.

“However, each ventilator had different problems in terms of hardware, accessories and software,” read the PAC findings.

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