Actually, this should be the time when health authorities are expending all their energies for testing the suspected cases and administer treatment. This is the time for the public health authorities to receive praise from the people because of all the good works they are doing. And the ministry of health and the government should be receiving accolades from all sides. But they have become the subject of harsh public criticism, even anger, because of their own doings. Early this week, the Health Ministry purchased medical logistics from China to test and treat patients of COVID-19. That was the right thing to do. Nepali health facilities have no tools to test the patients suspected of coronavirus and the government had to procure them. But now it has been revealed that almost all the medical items, costing over billion rupees, were purchased at way too high rates, as many as 28 times higher than normal market price for some of the items.
Other details regarding this scandal are emerging. It has been reported that Omni Group, to which the government awarded the contract to bring medical equipment and logistics to control the coronavirus (COVID-19) and which it did at exorbitantly higher prices, was also involved in similar controversial procurement deals with the Election Commission (EC). It had supplied faulty printing machines to the EC at higher prices during the Provincial Assembly and House of Representatives elections of 2017. Omni had procured three printers for EC at the cost of nearly Rs 250 million. But they were not functioning. The EC had to turn to Janak Education Material Center Limited. This means Omni was faulted already. Why was this particular company, of all others, selected? Why did it have to be Omni? Since Omni is notorious for collusion and setting, the involvement of top-level bureaucrats and politicians cannot be ruled out. There has to be a thorough investigation into this case and the guilty must be brought to book.
Now the government has asked the health facilities not to use the rapid test kits which the Omni group supplied citing the question of reliability. Failure on our part to do a detailed technical assessment before purchasing those costly kits has resulted in such a huge embarrassment. The government should have looked into whether kits being supplied by Omni were approved by the WHO before handing over the contract to Omni. There is enough room to suspect that all these bad deeds are happening because the government authorities awarded the contract of purchasing these life-saving logistics to the company close to the party without assessing fairness and transparency of the procurement process. Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal has a lot to explain to the people. Those who abuse power to make money even during the times of crisis can never be expected to serve the cause of the country and the people.