Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Bolivian health minister sacked after 42 days in office

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Bolivian ex-Minister of Health Marcelo Navajas (right) and Minister of State Arturo Murillo (left) hand over 15 respirators to a hospital in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on May 19. – / AFP

The now ex-Minister of Health, Marcelo Navajas, will have remained in office only forty-two days since taking office in April. Enough to cause a scandal in the Bolivian government.

Arrested on Wednesday 20 May and taken to the premises of the special crime-fighting forces in La Paz, he was removed from office a few hours later by the interim president Jeanine Añez. He is suspected of having bought 170 artificial respirators from a Spanish company, at an additional cost of $ 3.4 million. The equipment was also unsuitable for the intensive care units for which it was intended.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Health crisis reignites political tensions in Bolivia

The affair has been brewing for several days. On the weekend of May 16 and 17, doctors denounced the delivery of inappropriate materials to the intensive care unit while their distribution began across the country. They were surprised to discover basic equipment intended for intermediate care. The press then followed suit at the start of the week, revealing a possible overcharging of the equipment. These revelations prompted the head of state to declare an investigation on Tuesday into alleged corruption.

The respirators in question had been purchased urgently in early May from the Spanish manufacturer GPA Innova through intermediaries, at a price of $ 28,080 per unit, while this type of equipment actually costs between $ 6,540 and $ 8,000. , according to the manufacturer's catalog. An exorbitant difference of $ 20,000 per respirator. For this operation, the Bolivian state was to disburse the total amount of $ 4.7 million, financed by the Inter-American Development Bank. Only half of the sum was paid, the remaining half was immediately frozen. President Añez said on Wednesday that she had ordered "Not a penny more is paid" for this medical equipment.

Government a little more fragile

The investigation opened by the Bolivian prosecution will have to establish at what level the additional cost was operated when several intermediaries took part in the operation, including another Spanish company, IME Consulting, which claims that it would receive only 20% $ 4.7 million.

Four other people were arrested on Wednesday. All of them designate the former Minister of Health as primarily responsible for this purchase contract. The Minister of Justice requested his pre-trial detention in order to avoid any obstruction of the investigation.

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