Pandemic: Malaysia buys defective ventilators via WhatsApp?

Deals on the emergency procurement of ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic had to be done through WhatsApp due to the sheer urgency of the situation

Pandemic: Malaysia buys defective ventilators via WhatsApp - LiveLaw pic
Malaysia buys 104 defective ventilators during Covid-19 pandemic via WhatsApp - LiveLaw pic

PETALING JAYA – Malaysia’s Health Ministry bought more than 100 defective ventilators at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 but could not hold any party liable because there was no written agreement, an investigation found.

Deals on the emergency procurement of ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic had to be done through WhatsApp due to the sheer urgency of the situation, revealed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on the management of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The committee found that 104 of the 136 ventilators supplied by Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB) to the Health Ministry during the pandemic were defective, but no party was able to take responsibility as there was a lack of a written agreement between PLSB and the Health Ministry.

It also said in the report that PLSB was directed to make an advance payment for the ventilators due to its existing relationship with the Health Ministry, despite the company having no experience and expertise in the procurement of medical equipment such as ventilators.

“Due to the extraordinary situation the world was facing at the time, emergency procurement was implemented to obtain supplies such as vaccines, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic,” said the committee.

It added that the discussions, evaluation and decisions relating to the procurement of ventilators had to be done via WhatsApp – which was not standard procedure – due to constraints during lockdown as well as the urgency and direness of the situation at that time.

The committee said that the absence of a written agreement between the Health Ministry and PLSB meant that no party could be held accountable for the 104 ventilator units that could not function.

“Due to the uncertainty of PLSB’s role in this matter, legal action could not be taken,” it said.

The PAC’s findings on expired vaccines, defective ventilators and excess PPE under the Health Ministry were published on the Parliament website on Monday (30 Oct).

The committee also said in its report that it found that there were discrepancies in information between the Health Ministry’s statement and PLSB on the existence of a warranty for all 136 ventilators.

A review of the price quotation document submitted by PLSB to the PAC indicated that the warranty had been specified by the supplier.

However, the PAC found that the document did not include all 136 ventilators and there was no acknowledgement of receipt.

On 25 March 2020, the Cabinet was informed about the need for 800 units of ventilators – 300 to replace existing equipment and 500 to fulfil new needs.

Following that, the Health Ministry’s top management asked for assistance from PLSB to get ventilators from countries that manufacture them, especially China.

According to the PAC’s findings, this was the first time that the Health Ministry procured that particular brand of ventilators from China.

In line with approval from the Finance Ministry, the Health Ministry approved an advance payment of RM30 million (S$8.6 million) to PLSB to procure 500 units of ventilators, with the balance to be paid after the machines were received.

A total of 136 ventilators costing RM20.1 million were supplied to health facilities under the Health Ministry in 2020 between 1 April and 19 May.

After the ventilators arrived, they did not pass the testing and commissioning (T&C) review although prior checks on the specifications had been conducted by Health Ministry experts based on the product brochures obtained.

T&C of the ventilators found that only 28 were usable while 93 were unusable.

The remaining 15 units were returned to the overseas manufacturer for replacement.

An additional RM3.97 million was then approved for PLSB to upgrade certain ventilators, increasing the cost of the overall procurement of 136 ventilators to RM24.07 million.

From the 15 units that were replaced, only four units could be used.

This meant 104 out of the 136 units obtained were unusable.

“The issue with all the ventilators was that the ventilator plug point differed from the plug point used in Malaysia,” said the PAC report.

“The ventilators could only be turned on after the plug points were upgraded.”

“However, each ventilator had different problems in terms of hardware, accessories and software,” it added. — TheStar

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