Financial irregularities suspected in procurement of medical equipment from China

Published On: March 29, 2020 06:50 AM NPT By: Sunil Sapkota

The Omni Group is found to be involved in almost all the deals that are awarded without following any competitive bidding process.

KATHMANDU, March 29: It has been revealed that the medical equipment and other logistics that the government has procured from China for the treatment of coronavirus-infected patients have been purchased at exorbitantly high prices, raising serious concerns over massive financial irregularities in the deal.

Official documents obtained by Republica showed that the government has paid over Rs 15,000 for a set of PPE, which Chaudhary Foundation bought for around Rs 3,000. Similarly, N-95 masks, which the Ministry of Health and Population earlier cancelled the procurement process after private parties offered to provide them at Rs 400, have been purchased at nearly Rs 900 this time.

Basanta Chaudhary of Chaudhary Foundation wrote on Twitter Saturday that they had purchased PPE set for around Rs 3,000 per piece.

Infrared Thermometer, which the Health Ministry earlier procured at Rs 2000, has been purchased at Rs 10,000 each. Most of the medical equipment that the ministry has agreed to procure from a private company named Omni Group are found have been priced exorbitantly higher than the market rate.

The Health Ministry had turned deaf ears to make necessary preparations even as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of imminent threats of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nepal. A senior official at the Health Ministry said the deal was made to procure the medical equipment and logistics necessary to contain COVID-29 from Omni Group that was able to secure several important tenders, including video conferencing system at the prime minister's office, IT lab of Nepal Telecommunication Authority and controversial printing machine deal of Election Commission in collusion with government officials.

The Omni Group is found to be involved in almost all the deals that are awarded without following any competitive bidding process.

The masks, virus test kits, PPEs and other medical logistics procured by the government through the Omni Group are being imported from Guangzhou of China. The government is buying 100,000 units of protective goggles at Rs 2100 per piece, 100,000 gowns at Rs 1900 per piece, 100,000 surgical masks at Rs 30 per piece and 80,000 N-95 respirator masks at Rs 850 per piece.

According to the details obtained from the ministry, the government is buying 200,000 ordinary surgical gloves at Rs 22 per piece and 7,000 thick gloves (medium type) at around Rs 125 each. Similarly, the government is planning to buy 15,000 units of scrub tops at Rs 1000 per piece, 9,000 face shield plastics at Rs 300 per unit, five pieces of portable PCR machines at Rs 2.5 million each, 4,000 units of disinfectant chlorine at Rs 1900 per unit and 5,000 boxes at Rs 360 per piece.

The government is also buying 1500 infrared thermometer at Rs 7,800 per piece, 75,000 units of Rapid Diagnostic Kit at Rs 1,000 per piece, 50,000 portable reagent kits at Rs 4,500 per piece, 50,000 sets of PCR Reagent Kit at Rs 6,200 per piece and 50,000 sets of Viral Transport Medium (VTM) at Rs 336 per unit. Concerned officials say the infrared thermometer normally cost Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 in the market.

China's National Medical Products Administration has given permission for only 19 medical equipment producers to exports equipment and other logistic useful for the treatment of COVID-19. It is not clear whether the goods purchased by the government are from among these 19 approved companies, according to Health Ministry officials.

A senior official at the Health Ministry said officials at the Department of Health Service and those in the Ministry were at odds over-preparing cost estimates to ensure transparency in the procurement process. Various medical items purchased by the government are heavily priced under the pressure from those in the higher government authorities and the contractors, according the official.

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