Excessive procurement of vaccines will continue to be investigated by the State Audit Office, the Prosecutor's Office will refrain

The Prosecutor's Office is not going to investigate the facts about excessive purchases of Covid-19 vaccines and the possible waste of public money, which were revealed by officials of the Ministry of Health (MoH) this spring, but the State Audit Office (SAO) promises to continue its checks in this area, according to the answers sent to Neatkarīgā by the above-mentioned institutions.
03.06.2022. NNeatkarīgā
 
©Ekrānšāviņš

On May 3, a report from the MoH appeared, which was also reproduced by LETA, saying that Latvia would donate €16.6 million worth of Covid-19 vaccines to Nicaragua - 849,420 doses of the Comirnaty vaccine. The total value of the donated doses of Covid-19 vaccines is €16,563,690. According to LETA, "Latvia has so far donated around one million vaccines to Tunisia, Moldova, Albania, Kenya, Georgia, Vietnam, Egypt and Benin, as well as donated vaccines to the COVAX mechanism."

Although already at the end of 2021 the SAO found that the procurement of vaccines was excessive and not in line with the real needs, TV3 news reported on February 23 this year: "Last year, Latvia received about 4.2 million doses of vaccines, more than half have been used so far, and the current balance is 1.17 million doses. At the same time, it is planned to receive around four million more vaccines this year, but calculations already show that Latvia will not be able to use even half of this. In addition to the vaccines already known, Latvia will receive a new brand - Novavax - next week."

Inese Kaupere, Director of the Pharmaceutical Department of the MoH, is quoted as saying: "At the moment, we are forecasting this surplus of vaccines, having made these careful assessments, both by calling on epidemiologists, talking to our own experts and looking at real life and the use of vaccines."

Not a matter of the Prosecutor's Office

Since the media clearly showed that excessive purchases of vaccines had been made, with impressive amounts of money spent, which had even been foreseen by the responsible officials, and the Prosecutor's Office was very active in pursuing a criminal case against former Health Minister Ilze Viņķele for inaction in purchasing vaccines, the question logically arose of the need to prosecute other officials for excessive purchases as well.

Neatkarīgā asked Prosecutor General Juris Stukāns: "Will there also be a prosecutor's investigation of the facts that have emerged about the disproportionate purchase of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, and will the State Police be tasked to investigate; is the Prosecutor's Office ready to bring charges against the responsible officials for disproportionate purchases of vaccines that were clearly purchased far more than there are people in Latvia, which they understood well at the time of purchase - similar to the charges for inaction brought against former Health Minister Ilze Viņķele in February this year?"

We received a reply from Aiga Eiduka, press secretary of the Prosecutor's Office: "In reply to the e-mail you sent, I would like to inform you that it is not the competence of the Prosecutor's Office to conduct performance audits on the use of public funds."

Continuing the set course

As the SAO had already investigated the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, but the most recent facts used in the investigations date back to August last year, Neatkarīgā asked the SAO management whether it would continue to carry out audits or inspections related to the excessive purchase of vaccines. "As you rightly mention in your letter, the State Audit Office has assessed the organization of the vaccination process against Covid-19 in the health sector, including issues related to the procurement of vaccines, within the framework of the financial audit ‘On the accuracy of the preparation of the annual report 2021 of the Ministry of Health’ and earlier this year published an interim audit report ‘Was the vaccination against Covid-19 implemented by the Ministry of Health sufficiently targeted?’. As part of the audit, we also assessed the effectiveness of the management of Latvia's Covid-19 vaccine portfolio. The interim audit report can be found on the State Audit Office website by following the link.

The Covid-19 vaccination audits covered the period from January 1 to August 31, 2021, with no irregularities found in the procurement of vaccines during this period. However, weaknesses were identified and appropriate recommendations were made to the Ministry of Health, including in areas related to the management of the vaccine portfolio. The progress of implementation of the recommendations will be assessed by the State Audit Office in July this year.

Implementing the recommendations to improve the process of vaccination against Covid-19 will ensure:

- targeted planning of the vaccination process and a full and meaningful risk management process;

- clear and documented delegation of responsibilities to those involved in the vaccination process to mitigate the risk that failure to fulfil responsibilities or to meet deadlines could have significant negative consequences for vaccination implementation;

- rational use of the public budget allocated for the provision of vaccination services;

- ensuring that vaccination against Covid-19 is a fully-fledged disease prevention measure in primary health care;

- targeted financial incentives and support for GPs;

- full support of the ViVaT (meaning the Unified Vaccination Network) solution at all stages of vaccination, including effective management of vaccine stocks.

In addition, we would like to inform you that the financial audit ‘On the regularity of the preparation of the 2022 Annual Report of the Ministry of Health’ is currently underway. As part of this audit, we will assess the progress made by the Ministry of Health in implementing the recommendations made to improve the Covid-19 vaccination process and, based on the implementation and risk assessment of the recommendations, decide on the issues that should be included in the audit and assessed in more depth. We will inform the public about the results of the audits on the website of the National Audit Office as well as through the media."

Responsible officials can now be determined

It should be recalled that on April 6, Kaupere explained on TV24's "Uz līnijas" program, "I think that, given the current situation, we could now talk about donating vaccines. That would be the most realistic option." She said that Latvia has been donating vaccines to third countries since autumn 2021. At that time, total donations amounted to around €5 million, and along with aid to Nicaragua it is already more than €20 million. For comparison, here's the approved 2021 expenditure of the Kuldīga hospital of around €7.6 million. And while we are helping with our own money, which has been mismanaged by civil servants, to distant nations where few even know where Latvia is, dozens of seriously ill patients are asking on the portal ziedot.lv for help with treatment that is not covered by the state.

Kaupere admitted to the press that the surplus of vaccines had been predicted. It follows from her statements that the large purchases of surplus Covid-19 vaccines were made deliberately. At the same time, the official has spoken in the media about the fact that many patients in Latvia do not have access to medicines because they cannot buy them due to a lack of funds.

Millions for Covid infrastructure

Another comparison is worth making. Although Covid is decreasing and restrictions are easing, a lot of money is going to Covid infrastructure, which means that IT providers are the most likely beneficiaries. On March 15, the Cabinet of Ministers approved draft orders on additional funding for the health sector totaling €7.7 million. Of this, €6.2 million is allocated for the implementation of the measures included in the Covid-19 vaccination plan 2022 approved by the Cabinet. This funding is needed to maintain the infrastructure for the vaccination process, the vaccination information technology systems, the communication and public information activities, the operation of the 8989 call and customer service call center and the maintenance of the digital certificates during this year. In comparison, only €835.9 thousand of this amount will be allocated to cover the costs of rehabilitation services provided in December 2021 to patients after recovering from Covid-19 infection. So much more goes to IT infrastructure than to real rehabilitation!

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