October 30, 2010
The AJS-supported Transformemos Honduras movement says Honduras’ Minister of Health, Dr. Arturo “Tuky” Bendaña, should be fired for going behind the back of a transparency commission and spending double the fair price in a $10.5 million-dollar medicine purchase carried out in May, and for mishandling a dengue fever epidemic that has resulted in at least 56 deaths so far in 2010.
In-Depth Investigation Reveals Corruption
Honduras’ public health system should be—and sometimes is—a boon to the 66% of the population living below the poverty line, offering medication, doctor’s appointments, and even complex surgeries free or at low cost. Unfortunately, it’s also rife with corruption.
In August the ecumenical Christian Transformemos Honduras (“Let’s Transform Honduras”) movement, which is supported by AJS, unveiled the results of an exhaustive investigation into the Ministry of Health’s million-dollar medicine acquisitions program. Major findings included the following:
- The law clearly states that a civil society commission must oversee all government medicine purchases to ensure they are carried out free of corruption. But commission members confirmed that the $10.5 million purchase in May was done behind their backs.
- In a sampling of 22 of the 405 medicines purchase, the government paid on average more than double the amount recommended by the World Health Organization—leading to suspicions that the Ministry of Health may have had “sweetheart” deals set up that greatly benefitted drug companies, but resulted in less medicine available for the poor.
- The World Bank had promised the Honduran Government it would reimburse 40% of the government’s costs (in this case, over $4 million) if medicines were purchased in an honest, open fashion. Because the process was instead plagued by corruption, the Honduran people were cheated of this money.
In response to these alarming facts, TH asked Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to fire the Minister of Health to put the brakes on a new $26.5 million purchase currently in the works.
Reactions to the Press Conference
Honduran news media, including radio, TV, and newspapers, ran stories based on TH’s press conference.
Two representatives of the Ministry of Health attended the press conference and were given the opportunity to defend themselves. Legal counsel Miguel Angel Bonilla claimed that TH’s accusations were “pure lies,” while administrator Moises Torres said TH was “hurting Honduras rather than helping it.” But neither could explain why the transparency commission was cut out of the process nor why medicines were purchased at such high prices.
By having the courage to publish this information, TH is taking the first step needed to break the chain of corruption and improve the level of healthcare available to Honduras’ poorest citizens. In the coming weeks, TH will also be filing official accusations against the Minister of Health with the Attorney General’s office and the National Anti-Corruption Counsel.
Please keep the brave members of TH in your prayers as they work to make Honduras’ public health system a true blessing for Honduras’ poor majority, rather than just another get-rich-quick opportunity for an elite few.