Every country around the world is struggling to provide medical tools to health professionals to treat patients infected with the coronavirus. Every country has faced an acute shortage of masks, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment (PPE) among other items because no country is in a position to export these vital materials to other countries because every country is in the same situation of crisis. China, to our relief and to the relief of most countries in the world, has been an exception. After emerging from nearly two months' struggle against the Covid-19 which killed over 3,000 people, the Chinese government and various Chinese companies have sped up the production of test kits, PPEs, and other necessary tools and they have been sending them to countries from Italy to Ireland to Africa. The government of China has pledged to assist Nepal in its fight against Covid-19. This is a great gesture in these moments of a great global crisis.
But it seems authorities in Nepal, or officials in those authorities, are looking to make money out of the procurement of medical logistics too. It is good news that medical equipment and logistics have arrived in Kathmandu from China. But Nepali authorities are found to have paid much higher prices for each of the items. The government is found to have paid over Rs 15,000 for a set of PPE, which is said to cost around Rs 3,000. Similarly, N-95 masks, which the Ministry of Health and Population earlier canceled the procurement process after private parties offered to provide them at Rs 400, have been purchased at nearly Rs 900 per piece. Infrared Thermometer (usually costing from 2000 to 3000 rupees in the market), which the Health Ministry earlier procured at Rs 2000, has been purchased at Rs 10,000 each. The company to supply these goods is Omni Group, which also happens to be involved in almost all the deals that are awarded without following any competitive bidding process. If the ratio of the difference in price is the same for several thousand items being procured, one can imagine millions of rupees of additional burden on the state coffers.
It is objectionable that the government authorities are brushing aside transparency in the purchase of the vital tools. That there is a difference of not one but as much Rs 12,000 in the purchase of a similar item raises the suspicion of the foul play. Sources at the Health Ministry have disclosed with the media that these medical items are heavily priced under the pressure from those in the higher government authorities and the contractors. If that is the case, it smacks of heavy corruption, dereliction of duty and complete erosion of morality. The government authorities must explain why medical items have been overpriced and if anyone is found to have inflated the price of medical equipment for the sake of making money, they should be most severely punished. Those who seek to abuse authority to misuse taxpayer's hard-earned money during the times of the worst crisis deserve an all-out condemnation and jail sentence.