Health Minister adds insult to injury
“Kaieteur News is waging a war against the Government,” was the observation of Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy when he hosted a press conference yesterday to refute the claims contained in the headline in the most recent Kaieteur News Sunday Special.
According to the minister, it is his opinion that the headline ‘Health Minister admits to buying drugs illegally’ was in fact not a mistake, but, rather, a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth.
He added that the headline came as part of a wicked vendetta the newspaper has against the Government of Guyana for some unknown reason.
“In a bold front page headline, Kaieteur News announced that the Minister of Health admitted that the Ministry of Health procured goods illegally…It is a blatant lie, and questions the motives of the Kaieteur News.”
According to the minister, the supporting article did not even mirror the headline, since it failed to show that the Minister of Health made such an admission.
The article stated that the minister admitted that his ministry made a mistake as it relates to the procurement process in purchasing drugs and medical supplies.
The recent Auditor-General’s Report, which was laid in Parliament recently, stated that the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), which is now a separate entity from the Ministry of Health, continued to use the ministry’s Cabinet approval to purchase drugs and medical supplies from specialised agencies both locally and overseas.
It was explained that, before the Procurement Bill was passed in Parliament in 2004, the Health Ministry would seek Cabinet’s approval for the purchase of the drugs and medical supplies, which, according to Dr Ramsammy, was legal.
However, when the Procurement Bill was enacted into law in 2004, the ministry had to receive the approval from the Tender Board.
This was not done, as the ministry continued to seek Cabinet’s consent. In essence, the Health Ministry kept breaking the law when it did not seek the Tender Board’s approval for the purchase of drugs and medical supplies totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.
But, according to the minister yesterday, the 1997 and 2003 Cabinet approvals were legally appropriate documents, and the Auditor-General never questioned that process.
It was in accordance with those approvals that the Ministry of Health procured its medicines and goods, the minister asserted.
However, he added that the Auditor-General had made recommendations in the 2005 and 2006 reports that the letter of approval from Cabinet ought to be renewed through the Tender Board.
As such, he noted, the ministry has since accepted the recommendations of the Auditor-General, a fact the minister said he clearly explained to staffers of the Kaieteur News.
“Anyone reading the story would be utterly disappointed with the headline, because the story itself is inconsistent with the headline…The problem is the highly provocative and mischievous headline.
I would not question media practitioners’ right to produce headlines to attract more readers and greater interest in their newspapers, but this right should not permit them to be slanderous and allow them to ever misrepresent the truth…The headline was reckless and irresponsible,” the minister chided.
He said that he has always treated media personnel with integrity and absolute dignity, noting that he has never advised media practitioners on which story to carry and how to carry it, even as he noted that no reporter who carried a negative story has had to endure ‘cold’ treatment from him.
But even as he admitted that he is a strong advocate for media freedom, the minister said that media personnel are swift to talk about media freedom when Government comes down on media practitioners for unfair behaviour.
“Various groups in and out of Guyana jump on a bandwagon defending the media’s rights. But no one ever seems to worry about the deliberate attempts by media houses to distort stories, misrepresenting the truth.”
Dr Ramsammy noted that, as Minister of Health, he is not resistant to any media house carrying negative stories about him, the ministry nor the Government, adding that this is a daily occurrence, without the Government responding.
“As a Minister of the Government, should I simply allow the media to distort as they please in order to demonstrate tolerance and underline how free the press is? Should I now ban all news reporters from Kaieteur News from calling me, and only allow them access to my open press briefing? If I do so, would this be protecting the ministry’s interest, or would it be an attack on press freedom?”
According to the minister, he is of the belief that the media has a responsibility, and Kaieteur News has abdicated its responsibility and has acted with absolute malice, irresponsibility and recklessness.