If Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is to be believed, then where are the 351,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine that the government had the chance and, according to him, the money to buy on February 19?
This is the question that hangs over the dust that has been kicked up by the conflicting reports of the Government/ANSA McAL vaccine deal which apparently fell through when the conglomerate requested a tax credit against its US$8.4 million “donation” towards the purchase of the Pfizer vaccines.
In the Senate yesterday, Minister Deyalsingh disputed the claim by ANSA McAL’s chief executive Anthony Sabga III that the company was approached on February 18 by Deyalsingh and senior Health Ministry officials with a request for a “contribution” towards the purchase of the vaccines costing US$8.4 million (roughly TT$58 million). “They volunteered,” he countered.
According to Sabga, however, the ministry came with an urgent request since the order had to be confirmed by the next day. After an emergency meeting, he said, the ANSA McAL board agreed to make the money available on two conditions. The Government would have to provide the USD equivalent and the contribution must be credited against taxes payable by the conglomerate for the income year 2021.
Although Sabga and Deyalsingh have both skirted the issue, it would appear that the Government decided not to pursue the matter with ANSA McAL. Presumably, to use the term popularised by the Prime Minister, the Government was “begging” for a donation but instead got what was effectively a loan to be paid back through a tax credit. The public knows the tax credit was the sticking issue because Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told the nation so last Thursday when he shamed-without-naming a conglomerate whose “offer” was rejected because of foreign exchange and tax write-off conditions.
The varying versions of how this deal went down by the Prime Minister, the ANSA McAL CEO and the Health Minister provide plenty room for questions and juicy speculation. However, these should not distract us from the key issue that on February 19, this country had an opportunity to acquire 351,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine and did not do so. The explanation for this disaster is not the responsibility of ANSA McAL but of the Prime Minister and his Health Minister.
In the senate yesterday, Minister Deyalsingh all but boasted that the government was always in a position to pay for the vaccines, which raises the question of why it had not immediately done so when it found ANSA McAL’s conditions too onerous to accept.
In accounting for this missed opportunity to give 351,000 persons single-dose protection against Covid-19 or full two-dose protection to 175,500 persons, we would expect the PM or Minister Deyalsingh to present the public with written confirmation from Pfizer that the country did indeed have the stated allocation pending payment by February 19. Assuming the Government can provide that, it should then explain exactly what happened after ANSA McAL stated its conditions resulting in it not pursuing the purchase.
This is a case for facts, not for the distraction of political red herrings.