Parliament Spotlights ‘Unforgivable’ Leakages From MOH’s Pandemic Procurement
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Parliament Spotlights ‘Unforgivable’ Leakages From MOH’s Pandemic Procurement

Aug 16, 2023

In an historic Parliament debate on the AG's Report, government MPs widely slammed leakages in MOH's emergency procurement during the pandemic, including the 2020 procurement of defective ventilators, vaccine and PPE wastage, and MySejahtera data breaches.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 – In an historic parliamentary debate yesterday, government MPs highlighted alarming revelations from the Auditor-General's 2021 report on the Health Ministry's emergency procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the unprecedented debate on an AG's report, the government backbenchers voiced their concerns over the procurement of ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and Covid vaccines that the national audit, spanning from 2020 to 2022, found to be plagued with irregularities, a lack of transparency, and potential conflicts of interest.

Most MPs from Pakatan Harapan (PH) who took part in the debate were particularly incensed over the supply of defective ventilators during the Covid pandemic, with Rasah MP Cha Kee Chin deeming it as an "unforgivable" and a "very serious omission".

"For me, it is a very serious omission – something that cannot be forgiven. I want to make it clear that somebody must be held responsible for this procurement," Cha said during his debate in the Dewan Rakyat on the AG's 2021 report.

"Was it the Cabinet's decision or the Health Minister's decision? I’m not accusing anyone, but there must be follow-up action taken on this matter.

"Because we know what ventilators are for. They are meant to provide oxygen. To whom? Patients in Stage Four and Stage Five who were in critical condition at the time. How is it possible that we spent millions of ringgit to purchase new ventilators that ultimately couldn't be used?

"For me, this is something that cannot be forgiven. Instead of diverting our attention to other matters, it is this issue that requires serious action, particularly on the Health Minister at that time, who, in my opinion, had a heavy duty to address this situation," added the DAP lawmaker.

The AG's 2021 report (Series 2), tabled in Parliament on February 16 earlier this year, revealed that Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd – identified in the report by its company registration number (260790-T) – supplied the MOH 93 defective ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic that cost the government an estimated RM13.07 million in losses.

According to the national audit, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) granted approval for emergency procurement of 500 ventilators valued at approximately RM50 million. Pharmaniaga Logistics, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga Bhd, received an advance payment of RM30 million for the procurement.

However, Pharmaniaga Logistics only supplied 136 ventilators to health care facilities, as determined by MOH, in stages between April 1 and May 19, 2020, costing RM20.1 million. An additional RM3.97 million approved for Pharmaniaga Logistics to upgrade certain ventilators pushed the cost of the overall procurement to RM24.07 million.

Out of the 136 ventilators received, only 28 were usable, while the remaining 108 were deemed unsafe for patient use. Fifteen of the unusable ventilators were returned for replacements, while the remaining 93 failed technical and performance tests.

The Cabinet meeting that agreed for Pharmaniaga Logistics to supply MOH 500 new ventilators had occurred on March 25, 2020, with MOF's emergency procurement approval given on the same day. Pharmaniaga Logistics’ supply of 136 ventilators, including the 93 defective ones, occurred between April 1 and May 19, 2020.

Throughout that material time in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Dr Adham Baba from Umno, who is currently not a legislator, was the health minister. Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who retired recently last April 21, was the Health director-general in charge of the Covid response for most of the pandemic.

Not a single Opposition MP was present in the House during the debate on the AG's report.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa told reporters last April 18 that MOH has decided to extend its logistics and distribution concession with Pharmaniaga Bhd, which is currently under PN17 status, to supply MOH facilities with drugs and medical supplies for 10 more years. "We really need them and it is our responsibility to try and help them since it's a GLC (government-linked company)," she was quoted saying.

Tebrau MP: ‘Extremely Wasteful’ PPE Procurement with Minimal Usage

Tebrau MP Jimmy Puah Wee Tse highlighted that no compensation action was taken due to the absence of any documentation regarding the procurement of ventilators between the supplier company and the MOH.

"All of this was done, and I stress, all of this was done during the state of Emergency," Puah told the Dewan Rakyat.

"This is the danger when an Emergency is declared in such a manner. Many things do not go through the proper procurement system that is transparent and subject to scrutiny by MPs. This is the fundamental problem when an Emergency is declared – many issues like this get buried and only come to light much later."

Puah was mistaken about the procurement of ventilators occurring during the state of Emergency. According to the AG's Report, MOF's approval for the "emergency" procurement and supply of the ventilators to MOH happened in early 2020; the state of Emergency was declared later on January 12, 2021.

The PKR lawmaker also highlighted audit findings which uncovered an excessive stock of PPE, mainly protective jumpsuits (coveralls) and boot covers, after changes were made to the Covid-19 management guideline, requiring health care workers to only use face masks and gloves in most procedures. Excess supply was also attributed to the decline in Covid cases.

As of July 2022, the percentage of boot cover and protective suit usage compared to the amount left in stock were at 2.2 and 3.1 per cent, respectively, with a balance of 3.08 million boot covers and 840,000 protective suits.

"Within less than a year, all these items will have to be discarded because their shelf life will have expired. This is extremely wasteful," Puah said.

Bentong MP Questions MySejahtera's Data Security

Bentong MP Young Syefura Othman called for a thorough investigation to be conducted promptly on the procurement of ventilators during the pandemic.

The fact that it was done without any documentation meant that the flow of funds was not recorded, and anyone can claim any amount since there is no official record of the ventilator transactions, the first-term DAP MP said.

"The justification for carrying out these transactions during an emergency, which resulted in the failure to properly document them, is something that does not make sense. Therefore, Bentong calls for a comprehensive investigation to be conducted promptly," Young Syefura said.

Government MPs also debated the AG report's findings revealing that a "Super Admin" account under the MyVAS system, which is used at vaccination centres to record and issue Covid-19 vaccine certificates, downloaded the personal information of three million vaccine recipients from the MySejahtera app in October 2021.

Young Syefura questioned the government's plans to further enhance and ensure the effectiveness of the MySejahtera application, as part of ongoing efforts to make it a primary health care management app within the country.

"What assurance can the government give with regards to the security of people's data stored in the MySejahtera system? We often hear about data breaches and leaks of personal information, so what measures does the government have in place to prevent such incidents from occurring with the MySejahtera application, which contains millions of personal data, including people's health records and movement history?"

Following its initial implementation as a Covid-19 application for tracking and managing Covid cases, as well as facilitating vaccine distribution and vaccination records, both the then-Ismail Sabri Yaakob administration and the current unity government have extended the use of MySejahtera into a health app.

MySejahtera now covers organ donation pledges and enables individuals to schedule appointments for visits to government hospitals and clinics, among others.

To date, Dr Zaliha has not announced which company was appointed to operate the MySejahtera app or how much the tender is worth, after MySJ Sdn Bhd's contract ended last March 31.

Tuaran MP: Geographical Distance Covered by Ambulance Service ‘Too Vast’ in Sabah

Meanwhile, Tuaran MP Wilfred Madius Tangau from Upko drew attention to the AG's report that found that the ambulance service at Tawau Hospital in Sabah covers a one-way distance of over 450km, encompassing multiple districts including Tawau, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Putatan, and Kota Kinabalu.

Tawau Hospital's achievement rate in meeting its targets was found to be between 14 and 44 per cent. MOH had set a key performance index target of having 50 per cent of its ambulances reach their destination in under 15 minutes for Priority 1 emergency calls.

"The geographical distance is too vast. However, such deficiencies are not unfamiliar to the health care services in Sabah," said Madius, who is former deputy chief minister of Sabah.

"Therefore, I appeal to the government to further enhance efforts in improving health care services in Sabah to reduce regional disparities – an issue of importance to the Prime Minister."

Petaling Jaya MP: Vaccine and Ventilator Issues Show ‘Deficiencies’ in MOH's Governance

In addition to ventilator procurement issues, Petaling Jaya MP Lee Chean Chung from PKR also raised the issue of unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

According to the AG's report, out of the total 82.85 million Covid-19 vaccine doses acquired by the government as of April 30, 2022, approximately 1.1 million doses were identified as wasted due to exceeding their expiry dates.

"Both of these issues highlight deficiencies in the management and oversight of health care resources by the Ministry of Health. Therefore, immediate steps must be taken to ensure that the processes of procurement, storage, and management of vaccines and health care equipment are carried out efficiently and effectively.

"I would not be surprised if these issues persist unless drastic changes are made to improve governance under the MOH. Therefore, the ministry should implement more strategic resource management strategies to enhance resilience in the future," said Lee during the debate.

The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) was led by Khairy Jamaluddin throughout the pandemic from 2020 to 2022 when he was the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister under PN in 2020 (although vaccine procurement was officially made by MOH), and when he was later appointed health minister in August 2021 under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's administration.

On MySejahtera, Lee raised concerns in the management of accounts belonging to individuals who have passed away.

"To prevent such problems (repeated data breaches), I suggest that MySejahtera conduct housekeeping and remove accounts associated with deceased individuals along with the National Registration Department (JPN).

"This is crucial to safeguard data security and ensure that the application is not misused by individuals to obtain vaccinations and treatments in the future," Lee said.

Syed Saddiq Praises Successful Covid Vaccination Programme

Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman also highlighted the need to increase public trust in the security of the MySejahtera system.

Citing a survey analysis included in the national audit, the Muda president highlighted that the perception of MySejahtera application users was predominantly negative. Nearly half of the respondents (49.8 per cent) disagreed with the storage of their personal data on the MySejahtera app, while another 29.8 per cent expressed a neutral stance. Only 21.8 per cent of the respondents agreed with the data storage.

"But the question is this: When MySejahtera is fully taken over by the government, how can we utilise its usage and ensure that the level of public confidence in the data storage process can be improved, so that we do not waste the potential of MySejahtera, which, if used effectively, can revolutionise and digitise the public health care system by reducing queues, improving booking processes, ultimately reducing costs, and enhancing public health efficiency?

"But to achieve that, all the recommendations presented in the AG Report must be thoroughly examined so that, in the end, we can change the perspective of the 50 per cent who disagree and persuade them to agree," Syed Saddiq said.

The young legislator said despite the many issues raised in the AG's report that underline the need for proper guidelines, especially for emergency procurements, there is also a need to recognise the achievements highlighted in the national audit.

"We must not overlook the positive aspects that have been successfully accomplished," Syed Saddiq said.

"When I look at this report, the audit chief himself confirms that the implementation of PICK was well-executed – the transition from a pandemic to an endemic state has been successful due to the effective implementation of the PICK programme.

"We achieved this transition faster than the targeted timeline, putting us far ahead not only in comparison to countries in this region, but also compared to other developed countries in Europe.

"What is bad, I believe, has been extensively discussed and can be improved, and we can scrutinise it. However, let us not deny the good things that are also shared in this audit report."

Tebrau MP: ‘Extremely Wasteful’ PPE Procurement with Minimal Usage Bentong MP Questions MySejahtera's Data Security Tuaran MP: Geographical Distance Covered by Ambulance Service ‘Too Vast’ in Sabah Petaling Jaya MP: Vaccine and Ventilator Issues Show ‘Deficiencies’ in MOH's Governance Syed Saddiq Praises Successful Covid Vaccination Programme