‘Ministry lacked vision in managing health crisis’
KUWAIT CITY, June 6: According to informed sources, the Ministry of Health’s need for medical masks under normal circumstances is about 400,000 per month. Assuming that the ministry needs ten times this quantity during the time of crisis, it would mean four million masks per month, which is equivalent to 48 million masks annually if the crisis continues, reports Al- Qabas daily. Such a figure means that the Ministry of Health would need almost 13.5 years to use these masks, assuming that the lifespan of a mask is permanent, and not just three years from the date of manufacture. However, about more than a year has passed since the date of manufacture and import of the masks, which means the remaining validity period does not exceed two years. In the event that the crisis ends within two years and the mask consumption returns to the normal level of 400,000 masks, the Ministry of Health will need 4.8 million masks annually. This means the quantity it imported is sufficient for 125 years to use just 600 million masks, with an estimate that its medical cadres will use 50 million masks during the COVID-19 crisis.
Based on this logic, the contracts of the Ministry of Health reveal the lack of strategic planning in government agencies, especially in times of crises. Its success in a specific file does not mean it has to be silent about its exaggeration in wasting tens of millions of dinars with little returns to the country and its people. Sources from the health sector revealed that the Ministry of Health spent such a large amount on a single product. This is evidence of the lack of prudent plans for crisis management, as an amount of approximately KD 80 million would guarantee the establishment of the largest factory in the Middle East for manufacturing medical masks and other related products. It is known that running such industries is not complicated, and Kuwait had succeeded in establishing four mask-manufacturing factories during the crisis. The mask file has emerged as a model for the lack of accurate assessment in the purchases of some government agencies.
This reveals several negative aspects such as absence of general plans and policies for managing crises and disasters, failure to benefit from the capabilities available in the country, and taking decisions without involving the largest number of specialists and concerned authorities to benefit from their expertise. Other negative effects are incurring huge expenses using the public money at a time of budget deficit without conducting sufficient feasibility studies on the government needs, and violation of the rules for implementing the budgets of government agencies, as well as lack of interest in supporting local activities related to primary medical supplies, lack of transparency in import procedures as per regulatory reports, bills without details of the number of imported masks and the cost of shipping, and incurring from the public funds the fees of shipping line agents, flooring fees and container clearance, transportation and unloading fees.
During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kuwait, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Public Authority for Industry provided the necessary licenses to establish four mask-manufacturing factories by facilitating the process of bringing in equipment, manufacturing machines and raw materials from outside Kuwait. These factories covered part of the needs of the local market during the crisis, and also helped a major mask factory to increase its production capacity by contributing to the transfer of a new production line from abroad. The masks and products of most of these new factories have been approved by the Ministry of Health as being suitable for “surgical” and traditional medical use.
Medical sources said, “How could a government agency make the regulatory authorities rush in importing medical supplies such as masks when one of the shipments remained in the port for up to 30 days until the ministry cleared it and referred it to its warehouses? This led to the state budget incurring additional sums as a result of the delay in transporting the shipment.” The Ministry of Health addressed the State Audit Bureau on April 6, 2020 with a letter indicating that the departments’ need for medical masks during the month of March 2020 was 145 million medical masks. However, the State Audit Bureau, after verification, discovered that the monthly consumption rate is much lower than the ministry’s estimate. The bureau described this estimate as an exaggeration and highlighted the inaccuracy in estimating the need, which led to charging the state budget with huge sums that could have been avoided if it had verified the estimates and matched it with the actual need for masks. In summary, the ministry overestimated the need for masks and other necessities. It lacked vision in managing the health crisis and ordered quantities without estimating their expiry time. The cost of the imported quantity was enough to build the largest factory for its production locally. The budget was exhausted by buying unnecessary quantities.