The pharmaceutical company has finally broken its silence after a Public Notice of Investment by the Social Security Board informing of the intent to loan the company $7 million was met with public criticism.
By Khaila Gentle
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 28, 2022
Pharmacy Express Limited has issued a statement regarding the recent backlash that it has received after the Social Security Board (SSB) issued a public notice that it intends to loan the company $7 million.
According to the statement released by the company, Pharmacy Express Limited (PEL), which was incorporated in 2003, is one of only a few Belizean-owned companies operating in the Fort Street Tourism Village—something it says it has been doing since 2001.
“Our business caters strictly to foreign clientele who arrive on cruise ships. Noteworthy is that our products have never and will never be distributed in the local market,” noted the company in its statement.
It further indicated that it has, over the years, contributed to the development of Belize by “keeping its investments in Belize unlike other foreign-owned companies” and that it employs a number of Belizeans, “most of whom are residents of Southside Belize City.”
The loan from the Social Security Board, says the company, will assist in “providing much-needed employment opportunities to those who most need it.”
We note, however, that the Public Notice of Investment issued by the SSB states that the $7 million loan would be used for “refinancing and inventory purchases.”
The company also stated that its consistent success over the years combined with the Government’s commitment to boosting tourism in Belize will allow it to meet its obligations with the SSB.
Earlier this week, the CEO of the Social Security Board, Deborah Ruiz, told KREM News that Pharmacy Express Limited had put up collateral that is three times the value of the loan—one of the reasons the Board saw no issue with investing in the company.
“The rate of return from this loan will assist the Belizean workers by helping to increase the Social Security funds rather than benefitting foreign-owned banks,” said PEL.
According to a Cabinet brief released on Thursday, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health and Wellness—which had openly expressed concerns regarding SSB’s proposed loan to PEL—had informed Cabinet of the growing public criticism. In response, Cabinet stated that, while it fully respects the SSB’s autonomy, it also acknowledges the importance and necessity of ensuring that all relevant information regarding Pharmacy Express Limited is shared with the Board before a final decision is made.
“Cabinet understands that SSB funds are the people’s money and should always be subject to the highest levels of care, scrutiny, transparency, and management,” said the release.
As reported in the Tuesday, July 26th issue of the AMANDALA, the Ministry of Health had issued a press release in which it expressed concerns about the proposed loan.
The AMANDALA article made mention of the response of the CEO of SSB, Deborah Ruiz, to the Ministry’s concerns. She is quoted as saying, “The Ministry of Health might have information that we are not privy to, so we wait to hear from them, whatever information they have or the nature of their objection.”
The article additionally stated, “AMANDALA understands that the company Pharmacy Express Limited may have ties to Julius Zabaneh, as he is named as one of the company’s shareholders and Directors in a 2013 court case brought against him. The background information from that case also indicates that the company leases four stores in the Fort Street Tourism Village, and supplies those stores with pharmaceutical goods, which they sell to cruise ship tourists.”
Reference was also made in the article to a reported connection between Pharmacy Express Limited and Medigen International Limited, which “had been awarded tender for the importation of Pharmaceutical and Related Medical Supplies shortly after appearing on the list of licensed pharmaceutical establishments” in 2021.
According to a 7News report this week, “The Ministry of Health … had issues with Medigen … which won a number of tenders last year—but with whom they have had supply problems.”