Not a chance!
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 1, 2019– Concern has been growing among the public in wake of a memorandum from the Ministry of Finance that made its way into the spotlight on July 29. The memorandum, addressed to the CEO of the Ministry of Health, Dr. George Gough, from Artemio Osorio for the Secretary of the Minister of Finance, highlighted the Ministry’s stance on a proposal to construct the Central Medical Stores in Belmopan under a 1.6 million dollar contract.
“After a careful review of the evaluation report, the Ministry of Finance has no objection to the award of contract for the construction of the Central Medical Stores building in Belmopan to Joehann Construction and Engineering Ltd., 156 Benque Viejo Road, San Ignacio, Cayo District, for a total cost of 1,686,505.70, inclusive of GST,” stated the memorandum.
The document went on to affirm that the ministry had no objection to the use of Limited Tendering Procedures for the said contract and that it would be funded through a grant from the National Health Insurance (NHI) Fund Reserve managed by the Belize Social Security Board.
For the majority of readers, there were several red flags that stood out despite the use of tentative words such as “not objected to”. Social Security contributions were increased only a month prior, much to the displeasure of the public, and now a common fear is that those contributions will be used to erect a million-dollar warehouse to store medicine – a project that is not directly related to national health insurance.
To further aggravate the matter, the process would be conducted under limited tendering, meaning that the contract would only be offered to limited bidders closely affiliated with the purchaser.
Joehann Construction and Engineering Ltd. is owned by Rolly Montero, brother of Minister of Works Rene Montero. But because many Belizeans have come to distrust the government after bitter experiences with the shenanigans of money-hungry politicians, the scheme does not appear to have the approval of the Belizean populace.
In fact, it could be said that many Belizeans became angry when the news surfaced. The recent raise in social security rates is still fresh in their minds, and they are in no mood to tolerate what they see as the hustling of their Social Security money, especially to benefit the brother of a sitting politician.
On Wednesday, 7News reported that a source within SSB clarified that the Ministry of Finance does not possess the authority to allocate NHI funds and that the SSB was unaware of the arrangement because they have not yet been presented with a proposal of the project.
Regardless, there has been much discussion on the implications of the memorandum and the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, submitted a letter to the Prime Minister stating that the building does not fall within the services of the NHI.
Furthermore, Hon. Briceño asserted that SSB does not have the authority to utilize the funds in this manner and that it would be a violation of the legislation.
PM Barrow responded via a letter of his own, clarifying that the Ministry of Finance did not “approve or purports to approve” a grant, but merely confirmed the position of the Ministry of Health, whose minister is Hon. Pablo Marin, that the funds would come from the NHI Reserve.
Furthermore, the letter stated that the Ministry of Finance was not allocating funds, and how the Ministry of Health would persuade the SSB to utilize monies from the NHI was their own concern.
The Prime Minister did, however, concede that the SSB may be beyond their bounds if they were to approve the use of the NHI funds for this endeavor, but that it was a matter for them and their legal advisors to handle.
Barrow closed his letter by stating: “I close by adding that in my view, and especially in the current circumstances, MOH ought not to make any such application.”
With the Prime Minister’s statement that the MOH did not have his support in making such an application, it is unclear at this time what the fate may be for the $1.6 million Central Medical Stores building.