Fuad: I never approved ministry letters

The original article can be found in: Trinidad Express By Anika Gumbs

Questions are being asked about who authorised the Minis­try of Health’s legal adviser, Bha­­bie Roopchand, to issue a min­isterial directive to regional health authorities in the country to increase the sum for award of contracts from $750,000 to $5 million. 

The directive has since been rescinded by permanent secretary Christine Sookram, and the value of contracts to be awarded has been revised to $1.5 million. 

Roopchand, the Sunday Express learned, issued the letters to the four regional health authorities. 

The permanent secretary is the accounting officer of the ministry and has sole responsibility for the drafting and issuing of letters relating to all financial matters. 

The letters were sent to the South-West Regional Health Au­th­­o­­rity (SWRHA), East­ern Regional Health Authority, North-Cen­­tral Regional Health Au­thority and North-West Regional Health Authority.

The Sunday Express learned an official at the SWRHA alerted Sook­ram to the June 6 letter, to seek clarification about the revised sum for the issuance of the award of con­tracts. 

A copy of the letter was forwarded to Sookram for review. 

The letter issued by Roopchand read: “I am instructed by the Honourable Min­ister of Health to advise that only contracts valu­ing over $5 million are to be forwarded to the ministry for ap­pro­val pri­or to award. Accor-­dingly, his previous cor-respondence on the issue is rescinded. 

Notwithstanding, I am to inform that the ministry is to be notified on a quarterly basis of the award of contracts valuing above $1 mil­li­on.”

The directive, the Sun­day Express learned, was rescin­ded in July.  

It could not be ascertained last week how contracts would have been funded.

Roopchand did not tell the Sun­day Express why she opted to issue the letter instead of passing the infor­mation to Sookram when asked via text message yesterday. 

She only responded to one text mes­­­sage when asked who authorised her to issue the letter: “The Minister of Health.”

However, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has distanced himself from the issuance of the letters.

Khan confirmed to the Sunday Ex­press last Thursday that a discussion did take place relating to increasing the contract sum for the award of contracts at the regional health au­tho­rities (RHA). 

However, the minister said he was unaware the directive was issued by Roopchand until the matter was brought to his attention by Sookram. 

“I did have the discussion with the legal adviser to increase the sum for the award of the contracts by the RHAs. According to the RHA Act, the minister has specific control of the health authorities. I received complaints that jobs were not being done because the ministry was moving too slow to approve the contracts, so the legal adviser and I discussed increasing the sum. 

“My permanent secretary is my accounting officer and she was uncomfortable with what she found out, so she rescinded the directive and reduced the amount to $1.5 million. 

“The permanent secretary felt if the RHAs were given a cap of $5 million, they would run riot and there will be excessive spending. 

“I am in my right to have those discussions with my adviser, but what happens after, I am not responsible. The legal adviser and the permanent secretary know the procedure because they have been there for several years. I am aware the permanent secretary is the accounting officer,” Khan said. 

Sookram did not re­spond to telephone calls and text messages sent by the Sunday Express.

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