KARACHI: Differences over cancellation of a multibillion-rupee tender created serious rifts between interim Chief Minister retired Justice Maqbool Baqar and Health Minister Dr Saad Niaz, who accused the former of ‘interference’ in his department and boycotted a meeting held at the CM House on Wednesday.

Sources told Dawn that the tender, which pertains to the purchase of four robotic systems for the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), Gambat Hospital and Liquat University of Medical Sciences Hospital, was last month cancelled by the caretaker health minister on the grounds that the robot-assisted procedures were too costly and should not be used for routine surgeries.

The sources that an influential party was involved in the tender process and certain quarters were allegedly pressuring the health minister to change his mind.

Apparently, they said, the chief minister was not satisfied with the health minister’s objection and on Tuesday he had paid a visit to the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and received a briefing on the utility of robotic surgery there.

Cancellation of tender to procure robotic systems for surgeries in govt hospitals is said to be real dispute

The source said that senior government officials had conveyed to the health minister to reverse his decision as the tender was floated during the tenure of the previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government and that the caretaker set-up was not authorised to take such a decision.

Health minister defends decision

On Wednesday night, the health minister issued a statement, saying the decision to stop the purchase of robots was taken in the light of expert surgeons.

He claimed that irregularities were also noted in the purchase of robotic systems.

“I have informed the chief minister of the whole situation. Even, then he interfered in the matter. The chief minister took a unilateral decision and went to SIUT and kept us uninformed about the whole situation.

“We are trying to improve the state of healthcare in the little time given to us for which we need support of the chief minister and not interference,” he stated.

Earlier in the day, a meeting was held at the CM House, where Justice Baqar reviewed the performance of the health department.

While several officials including caretaker Law Minister Omer Soomro, Chief Secretary Dr Fakhre Alam, Health Secretary Dr Mansoor, Jinnah Sindh Medical University Vice Chancellor Dr Amjad Siraj, JPMC Executive Director Prof Shahid Rasool and Prof Anwar Naqvi of the SIUT attended the meeting, the health minister was conspicuous by his absence.

The sources said that the health minister arrived at the CM House, had a brief conversation with the chief minister prior to the meeting and decided not to be a part of it.

“The health minister never came to the meeting, which had been postponed thrice on his request. Reports suggesting that he left meeting are not true,” a spokesperson of the CM House clarified.

When asked about alleged differences between the CM and health minister over the tender, the spokesperson told Dawn: “This matter is not in my knowledge.”

Baqar unhappy with health dept’s performance

At the meeting, the chief minister expressed his displeasure over the performance of the provincial health department.

According to a statement issued by the CM House, Justice Baqar referred to his recent visits to hospitals in the province and observed that most government hospitals/health facilities were in a “total mess”.

“During my visits to government hospitals right from Karachi to Sehwan and up to Sukkur, I found these facilities in a total mess. Male and female patients were kept without segregation into the emergency wards and most of the staff members were absent when checked the attendance registers,” he said.

He stated that the provincial government had allocated Rs234.29 billion for the health department for the financial year 2023-24, out of which Rs53.17bn had been earmarked for operational expenditures.

“Are we using the budget in the public interest properly by repairing and maintaining equipment,” he questioned.

The chief minister expressed his displeasure that despite his clear instructions the health officers were not conducting inspections of the government health facilities.

“You have director general health, directors, district health officers and even the directorate of inspection but even then no inspection has been carried out so far,” he told the health secretary.

Justice Baqar directed him to improve the inspection system and keep posting inspection reports.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2023

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