THE idea to seek ventilators from China in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic did not originate from the ministry but from then-transport minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, revealed Health Ministry (MOH) officials.
Meeting transcripts that were published in the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) COVID management report released in Parliament yesterday (Oct 30) indicated that Wee had surprisingly played an active role in every aspect of the ventilator procurement, CodeBlue reported.
This included getting contacts, identifying suppliers, presenting quotations, overseeing the transaction, and arranging the transportation of the ventilators to Malaysia.
According to the PAC’s investigation, 104 of 136 ventilators supplied by Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB) to Malaysia’s MOH during the pandemic turned out to be defective.
PLSB is a fully-owned subsidiary of local pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga Berhad.
The bipartisan parliamentary committee further noted that no parties could be held accountable for the unusable ventilators due to the absence of a written agreement between MOH and PLSB.
Former MOH secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Chen Chaw Min said many ministers provided valuable input during National Security Council (MKN) meetings, including Wee.
The Ayer Hitam MP’s connection with China and insights into repatriating Malaysians stranded abroad due to COVID-19 lockdowns was what prompted him to step in and assist in the country’s desperate need for more ventilators.
“During MKN meetings, there were many different ministers present, including Wee. He was involved with MAS (Malaysia Airlines), as transport minister, to facilitate the return of the first Malaysians stranded abroad (due to lockdowns),” Chen told the PAC in a meeting on August 22.
“From there, he (Wee) gave us a lot of input that if we were to purchase ventilators from China, we would have problems with transportation, which MASkargo could assist. That was where he stepped in.
“Then, he mentioned also that through – the Special Envoy to China, Wisma Putra, MATRADE – we could get contacts.
“A lot of ministers during MKN [meetings] provided a lot of input to help. Then-investment, trade and industry minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali pointed out that Pharmaniaga was also receiving a lot of donations so it was all fast-paced.”
delivery. As Wee was transport minister at that point in time, he worked with MAS,” Farshila said.
Wee was summoned by the PAC on Sept 21 to explain his role in the ventilator procurement.
“At that time, on March 25, 2020, it was a critical moment. When that decision was made, we assisted because I saw it every time, every day, it was reported [in the news] that we wanted to purchase (the ventilators), but we didn’t know where to buy,” he told the PAC.
“At that time, I sought help from my friends in China, including China’s ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian, and I asked where to find them. His counsellor said, ‘Let’s try to see if we can get a contact’. At that time, there was no mention of Pharmaniaga yet.
“When we obtained the contact, I passed it on to MOH. I called Chen myself. It was not the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport (MOT) to initiate the process so we handed it over to Chen.”
Wee, who had received a brochure from ventilator manufacturers in China, was questioned by the PAC about why the procurement process involved Hong Kong Smart Investment companies, a trading house, rather than dealing directly with manufacturers.
“The factories had no more stock, but the trading house did. That was the issue. At that time, the whole world was in search of ventilators,” Wee clarified.
He further asserted that even Chinese companies operating in Malaysia were inquiring about contacts to secure ventilator supplies.
“I inquired as well, and some gave (their contacts). We made calls to check if we could obtain the supply, and I handed over the contact to MOH. All of us were searching together (kita sama-sama cari),” he explained.
“During that period, many established companies were closed (due to lockdowns) and European suppliers were also unavailable.
“The only country was China; you had no other choice. We had to proceed in this manner. If there had been other options, I would not have been a busybody, but I had too because we were under constant pressure every day.”
It was previously reported that it cost MOH RM13.07 mil as it could not claim compensation for 93 units due to the absence of procurement documentation between the supplier and the ministry.
On March 25, 2020, the Cabinet was informed of the need for 800 ventilators, following which MOH had approved RM30 mil to a company with the registration number of 260790-T to purchase 500 units of ventilators. – Oct 31, 2023
Main pic credit: ThamKC