General — 18 July 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
“Hanky panky” prompts KHMH audit

Over $500,000 used to purchase 2 x-ray machines

Belize’s flagship medical institution, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), will soon be the site of a rigorous assessment by a team from the Audit Department following the revelation of a series of recent shady purchases which were made on behalf of the hospital, including the disbursement of two large sums of money which were used by the KHMH’s Finance Department to procure x-ray equipment.

The two x-ray machines were purportedly purchased without either an invoice or contract from an Orange Walk-based business, and reportedly cost the hospital more than half a million dollars, which raised eyebrows within the Board of Governors, who later addressed the Ministry of Finance requesting an immediate audit to examine those purchases to ascertain whether the hospital is actually getting “a bang for their buck”.

The media-grilled Chairperson of the KHMH Board of Governors, Chandra Nisbet-Cansino, commented on the matter yesterday, and she revealed that in addition to the questions raised regarding the x-ray machines, others arose when it was found that the $200,000 subvention that the hospital receives monthly was not covering their expenses, so much so that the KHMH found itself in dire financial straits, which led to uncertainty as to whether the payroll for June would have been met, which ultimately prompted the Board of Governors to seek the Ministry of Finance’s intervention and assistance by way of a fiscal appraisal.

She said, “Basically, there are two x-ray machines that were purchased and there are questions that arise regarding the specific invoice of purchase. There is a small x-ray machine that is $100,000, and there is a second one that’s approximately $400,000 – it’s a portable machine that we need in the operating theatre and emergency room – so the total is about $500,000.

“At this time, we have paid some monies to the suppliers, but luckily, we have not paid the full amount and hence the reason we want to investigate now to ensure that we are receiving value for money. That matter was brought to the board, I think it was at a meeting of last week Thursday, July 10, and it was of great concern to us, and so we have asked the Auditor-General to kindly review the relationship between a particular supplier and the Karl Heusner [Memorial Hospital].”

Cansino conceded that it is possible that the abnormal purchases have contributed to the KHMH’s financial crisis, but said that they will have to wait until the conclusion of the investigations to confirm that.

Cansino refused, however, to reveal the name of the Orange Walk supplier from whom the equipment was bought. The excuse that the investigation is still “ongoing” cuts no ice, leading observers to believe that the person is either “well-connected” to the ruling administration, or is “untouchable.”

A question also came up regarding another alleged acquisition of 37 hospital beds which were bought under irregular circumstances, and Cansino stated that it was in fact an additional concern for the board; however, the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Francis Gary Longsworth, has assured her that the requisition was subsequently voided and no purchase order was issued.

The audit is reportedly targeted at the particular supplier from Orange Walk who has been selling medical supplies to the KHMH for the past year, and will focus on the Finance Department’s management of expenditures, although we understand that other departments would be included as well.

We also understand that two employees were placed on administrative leave as part of the shakeup, and although Cansino admitted that there has been some “movement” of staff, she did not state if it was as a result of the investigations into the hanky-panky that was apparently taking place at the KHMH’s Department of Finance.

In related news, the beleaguered hospital is also reeling from financial shortfalls resulting from unsettled medical bills which, we were told, currently amount to a whopping $11 million.

One factor which has undoubtedly contributed to that bill are the incessant street crimes which continue to plague Belize City, and according to the KHMH Board Chair, the loss in revenue, in turn, affects other citizens since the hospital – to which referrals are made for most emergency and trauma cases, and those complex medical procedures which the smaller hospitals around the country are not equipped to handle – can only provide limited levels of services to the wider public under such circumstances.

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