Bid Process For Medicines Is Questioned

The Ministry of Health’s procurement process for medicines and other supplies is stacked against companies seeking to en­ter a fair bidding competition, one company stated Tuesday.

In written complaints filed to the ministers of health and fi­nance on Tuesday, Laing Ly, general director of Medical Supply Co, wrote that the government’s “bidding documents failed to identify technical or precise standards” required to make an ap­propriate bid, which is a violation of the Ministry of Finance’s procurement guidelines.

In addition, Laing Ly said, the government allowed less than one month to submit bids on its 2004 stock of medical supplies, making it virtually impossible for companies to compete fairly for the contract since they do not have enough information to set their prices competitively.

“I’m afraid this procurement will be the same as last year,” Laing Ly said in an interview Tuesday. “I appeal to have transparency in the bidding process to get the best quality medicine for the Cambodian people.”

In 2003, Laing Ly said, companies only had one week to place bids for the government contract to supply medicine and other supplies to the Ministry of Health. Though he submitted a bid of about $1 million in 2003—nearly half a million dollars lower than the contract winner, the name of which the government did not disclose—the ministry discarded his bid because he did not fill out the proper documents, he said.

“Because of the time constraints last year, we entered the tender by putting in a price, but we could not collect enough documents on time,” Laing Ly said. “Even though our price was lower, we didn’t have the sufficient documents, so they can kick us out anyway. It’s a setup.”

Ministry of Finance procurement guidelines state that “the bidding document should be drafted in a way to allow bidders to meet the full proposal of bidding.”

It adds that this bidding document “should be written precisely to avoid misinterpretation.”

The guidelines also state that bidders should have at least

30 days to submit a bid for contracts open to domestic companies and 60 days for contracts open to in­ternational businesses.

According to Laing Ly, however, the health ministry bidding documents were made available on Aug 13 and that the bids for the 2004 contract are due Sept 3.

Ngin Daneth, deputy director of the health ministry’s procurement department, said the contract in question has a 30-day time limit. He said companies were given a full month to bid, but he did not say when the documents were made available.

“One month is enough time,” he said. “We have an open-door policy, so companies can come in and question our experts at the ministry if they need to.”

But another senior government official familiar with the procurement process said that since the value of the Ministry of Health contract is expected to ex­ceed $325,000, it should be open to international companies, as outlined by the Finance Ministry. Thus, companies should have 60 days to prepare their bids.

“The government should advertise not only in Khmer language newspapers, but also in foreign language newspapers and with foreign embassies in town,” the official said. “But they never do it.”

The official said the government’s procurement practices suffered from “poor management” and that companies “with no real location and no real staff” tend to win contracts.

Newly appointed Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom said Tues­day that he was not familiar with the ministry’s procurement pro­cess. He also could not name any companies that received contracts to supply medicine and other goods to the ministry last year.

But he said the ministry was hoping to employ larger companies that would be able to supply the drugs faster than in previous years.

Nuth Sokhom also said the ministry would work harder to ensure the drugs purchased by the government end up in hospitals rather than in the markets. The ministry will stamp all of the drugs with a label reading “Prop­erty of the Ministry of Health—Not for Sale,” he said.

“Then we can check for the drugs in the private sector pharmacies,” Nuth Sokhom said. “If we find them, we can take them back.”

After Medical Supply Co submitted the letters to the health and finance ministries on Tues­day, a health ministry official called the company later in the day to ask it and the five other companies bidding on the contract to a meeting at the ministry on Thursday.

“They told us: ‘Keep producing, we will buy at the cheaper price,’” Laing Ly said. “But we don’t understand what that means. How can I keep producing when I don’t know what you want?”

(Ad­ditional reporting by Kay Kimsong)


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