PETALING JAYA – Malaysia’s health ministry bought more than 100 defective ventilators at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 but failed to hold either party liable because there was no written agreement, an investigation has found.

Contracts for emergency procurement of ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic had to be done via WhatsApp due to the urgency of the situation, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on managing the Covid-19 outbreak.

The committee found that 104 of the 136 ventilators delivered to the Health Ministry by Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB) during the pandemic were defective, but neither party could claim responsibility as there was a written agreement between PLSB and the Health Ministry lacked ministry.

The report also said that due to its existing relationship with the Ministry of Health, PLSB was ordered to make an advance payment for the ventilators, even though the company had no experience and expertise in procuring medical equipment such as ventilators.

“Due to the extraordinary situation in which the world found itself at the time, an emergency procurement was carried out to procure supplies such as vaccines, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic,” he said the committee.

It added that due to the restrictions during the lockdown and the urgency and seriousness of the situation at the time, the discussions, assessments and decisions related to the procurement of ventilators had to be done via WhatsApp – which was not standard procedure.

The committee said the lack of a written agreement between the Ministry of Health and PLSB meant that neither party could be held responsible for the 104 non-functioning ventilators.

“Due to the uncertainty about PLSB’s role in this matter, no legal action could be taken,” it said.

The PAC’s findings on expired vaccines, defective ventilators and excess PPE under the Department of Health were published on Parliament’s website on Monday.

The committee also stated in its report that there were discrepancies in information between the statement of the Ministry of Health and the PLSB regarding the existence of a guarantee for all 136 ventilators.

A review of the price quotation document submitted by PLSB to the PAC revealed that the guarantee had been set by the supplier.

However, the PAC found that the document did not contain all 136 ventilators and there was no acknowledgment of receipt.

On March 25, 2020, Cabinet was informed of the need for 800 ventilators – 300 to replace existing equipment and 500 to meet new needs.

The top management of the Ministry of Health then asked PLSB for assistance in procuring ventilators from countries that produce them, particularly China.

According to the PAC’s findings, this was the first time that the Ministry of Health procured ventilators of this particular brand from China.

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