The Democratic Action Party fully supports the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) and urges the government to accelerate its implementation in order to protect the health of the people and also to restore the country’s economy.
However, we express concern over the lack of transparency with regard to the government’s recent decision to pass an emergency ordinance allowing it to tap into the National Trust Fund (KWAN), reportedly for the procurement of vaccines and related expenditures.
The RM5 billion that is being used represents almost 30 per cent of the estimated RM17.4 billion within KWAN, and that is why utmost transparency and accountability is needed to instil public confidence, avoid wastage, mismanagement, and abuse.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary transparency. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary transparency.
The fact that the government needs to tap into the National Trust Fund also points to the need for the Parliament Accounts Committee (PAC) to reconvene.
When Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Health Minister Dr Adham Baba first met the PAC on January 5, 2021, there was no mention of using funds from KWAN up to the tune of RM5 billion to fund the procurement and rollout of the various Covid-19 vaccines.
For the PAC to reconvene, the emergency must be lifted and parliament must be allowed to sit again.
Without the option of parliament or the PAC as a channel to ask more detailed questions with regard to the spending for PICK, we secured a meeting with the Vaccine Minister to get a clearer breakdown of the RM5 billion expenditure for proper scrutiny, as well as raise certain pertinent issues to improve the progress of PICK.
Among the issues pertaining to the RM5 billion expenditure allocated to PICK, including the procurement of vaccines, are the following:
We take note that up to RM1.5 billion has been allocated for the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, including setting up various large-scale vaccination sites across the country (Pusat Pemberian Vaksin or PPV) costing RM280 million, sanitation and cleaning services costing RM100 million), and community outreach and advocacy campaigns costing RM55 million, just to name a few examples.
We want to know how many of these large scale contracts were awarded via open tender? Did they go through the usual e-perolehan process or were they awarded via direct negotiation or limited tender?
Given the scale of the expenditure involved, it is only right that MPs are able to ask for this information to be disclosed, as we would have requested were parliament in session.
At the same time, we question the total amount allocated for “allowances” (the word saguhati is a term used in the Ministry of Finance terminology, and actually means allowances) for both medical and non-medical volunteers, amounting to RM347 million.
There has to be a breakdown on how many volunteers this involves and the expected allowances to be paid out per volunteer including civil servants who will be stationed at the PPVs.
Furthermore, we question the total allocation for the data integration and appointment system, and post-inoculation evaluations, which amounts to RM85 million.
We request a clear breakdown of such expenditure and question the need for such a sum, especially since the MySejahtera app and other databases already exist.
In addition, we want to raise the issue of how the RM55 million for community programs and vaccination outreach is being used, especially since the total registration rate is approximately 39 per cent of the targeted population (as of the May 1) or 9.5 million persons.
What other methods are the Ministry planning to roll out in order to incentivise the rest of the population to register for the vaccine?
On top of that, based on World Health Organization estimates from the COVAX working group on delivery costs, the recommended budgeting for both innovations and post-introduction evaluations for a total of one billion doses or a 500 million-sized population is at US$91.2 million.
This covers data integration, digital micro-planning, appointment systems, post-immunisation evaluation and others (Items Six and Nine in the expenditure chart released by the ministry).
If we take the local context and our country’s target of vaccinating 28 million (80 per cent) of our population into account, the total recommended cost for such items should only be at RM 21.45 million, which is almost a quarter of the amount allocated based on the public statement released by the ministry.
That is why we question the sum allocated and ask for greater transparency pertaining to contractors, job scopes and deliverables, to avoid risk of abuse and over-profiteering.
With regard to vaccine administration and deployment, we have the following questions:
We want to know why is it that so many high-risk groups, including the elderly and those with comorbidities, that have registered earlier are not getting their appointment dates, especially in the Klang Valley?
This includes safeguards to ensure state governments do not overstep and prioritise groups outside of the recommended groups, like what happened in Pahang.
We also suggest improvements on notifications, especially for the elderly group that may not be familiar with the MySejahtera app.
We also want to know the government’s position on introducing parallel and multi-streamed vaccination drives by including both the state governments and the private sectors.
The federal government should also offer assistance to state governments and the private sector to procure additional vaccines, especially from international manufacturers to accelerate the process in order for us to achieve the targeted herd immunity.
We hope that the issue of state governments procuring supplies of the vaccines for themselves can be expedited by the federal government, once the official request has been sent by the respective state governments, including the most populous state in Malaysia, namely Selangor, and also the largest state in Malaysia in terms of land size, Sarawak, and the most important state in terms of E&E exports, namely Penang.
We also want to know the government’s strategy on improving and enhancing logistical improvements including better transportation of vaccines from Vaccine Storage Centres (PSV) to the selected Vaccine Distribution Centres (PPV) especially the rural areas of Sabah & Sarawak.
In addition, we want to know the latest absentee rate figures and the amount of Pfizer and Sinovac vaccines which have been wasted, because those whose appointments had been set did not show up, and not enough volunteer substitutes to take those shots could be contacted in time.
The government has decided to rebottle Sinovac vaccines locally after buying the stock in bulk from China.
While this decision was taken to promote technology transfer, rebottling the vaccine locally is totally different from manufacturing the vaccine locally.
Rebottling involves only the packaging of finished goods and not the production of the goods.
In fact, rebottling may affect the speed of production, integrity of the vaccine and even create unnecessary layers of middlemen.
Earlier news reports have stated that locally manufactured vaccines can be prepared and supplied to hospitals by the end of March. This does not seem to be happening.
Will the government continue to locally rebottle Sinovac and other vaccines in the future? How much additional costs would this involve, compared to buying the finished goods directly from source manufacturers? And what is the status of the government’s plan to manufacture vaccines locally?
Finally, we also want a full explanation on the challenges faced by people wanting to register to take the AstraZeneca vaccine on a voluntary basis.
Especially important is what the government will do to enhance this system for the next round of AstraZeneca vaccines when they arrive in Malaysia, hopefully in June or thereabouts.
We urge the prime minister to reconvene parliament to allow such important decisions to be debated and scrutinised.
The Parliamentary Select Committee should also be allowed to provide parliamentary oversight concerning the vaccine rollout and approaches to battle the pandemic.
When billions in public funds are being used, it is of utmost importance that all matters, procedures and financial procedures are complied to, to ensure that the people’s money is being spent prudently and efficiently.
We must be allowed to play an effective role in providing a check and balance mechanism to promote the spirit of transparency and accountability, especially during this period.
We repeat, extraordinary times calls for extraordinary transparency.
We had a fruitful and productive meeting with the Vaccine Minister today. Many of our questions were answered, and the minister also assured us that he will supply a detailed breakdown of the items spent on. We look forward to his official reply to us and to the public.
Lim Guan Eng is Member of Parliament for Bagan, Ong Kian Ming is Member of Parliament for Bangi, Steven Sim is Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, and Kelvin Yii is Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching.
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