PNG auditor calls for ‘sanctions’ in private probe over medicines row

Pharmaceutical supplies
Papua New Guinea auditing ... controversy over pharmaceutical supplies. Image: WHO

By Clifford Faiparik in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s Auditor-General has questioned who approved a US-based international auditing firm to audit the awarding of contracts by the Health Department to pharmaceutical companies.

Acting Auditor-General Gordon Kega said his office should “sanction” the involvement of any private firm in the auditing of public funds.

“Under the Audit Act, we are supposed to sanction private auditors to audit public funds,” he said.

Kega said his office was not consulted when the Forensic Technologies International (FTI), a business advisory firm from the United States, was called in to carry out the audit after concerns were raised about the way AusAid funding was being used by the department to procure pharmaceutical supplies.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament also conducted a commission of inquiry into the AusAid funding complaint.

Kega said the FTI audited the Health Department “without our authorisation”.

“And that report has been given to the police to carry out investigations,” Kega said.

Police have own jurisduction
“But then the police have their own jurisdiction to investigate any information they [receive] from complainants.

“We are available to clarify our position [with police] on the sanctioning of private auditors such as the FTI.”

He distanced the office of the Auditor-General from the auditing of Ausaid funding to procure pharmaceutical supplies.

The police said the work of the FTI had been approved by the government and funded by AusAid.

Chief Inspector Joel Simatab said the police had already received the FTI report and were awaiting the one from PAC chairman Sir John Pundari.

“The FTI report was sanctioned by the Department of Prime Minister and National Executive Council while the PAC report was sanctioned by Parliament,” he said.

The FTI and PAC conducted their enquiries in August last year.

“We received the FTI report first.

Both inquiries ‘similar’
“Both enquires are similar but PAC has statutory powers to summon people, seize confidential documents from the banks, companies, service providers and government departments,” he said.

He said the FTI “has no statutory power and so their report is not really in detail”.

“What they did was look into the tender of contracts, procurement, delivery of medical drugs and the lack of consultation between service providers and the provincial health authorities,” he said.

“PAC has the authority to go into detail.”

He said they had the same aim of finding out the processes of procuring medicines for the people of PNG.

“So while we are investigating the FTI report, we are mindful of the PAC report.

“Once we receive it from PAC, we will cross-check both recommendations [before we] conduct criminal investigations.”

The Pacific Media Centre publishes The National news reports with permission.

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