On Friday, 23 May 2020, investigative journalist Edith Febles asked for an interview with the director of the Center for Emergency Operations (COE), Brigade General Juan Manuel Méndez García. All of a sudden, several procurement contracts awarded by the COE and published on the Procurement Agency website were canceled.
The cancelations are in line with the normal way the Medina administration has dealt when the media has presented evidence of widespread graft in public contracting, especially during the National State of Emergency. Journalists have been who have revealed irregular contracting at the National Institute for Comprehensive Care to Early Childhood (Inaipi), the Ministry of Public Health, National Health Service and Ministry of Defense. As in this case, the government merely again just canceled the contracting. In none of the cases has any penalty been levied, nor an investigation opened. Instead, in a public address on one of the most outrageous contracts awarded, the head of the High Commission for Prevention of Coronavirus announced a best practices manual was being distributed to avoid future violations of procurement requirements.
In her TV show and on her YouTube channel, Febles presented evidence of the major irregularities in procurement at the Center for Emergency Operations during the National State of Emergency. Coincidentally, five companies have been the main beneficiaries of juicy contracts granted in hours or minutes after they were uploaded to the Procurement Agency platform. These are: B.R.A.D. Commercial, Distribuidora Gahostex, SRL, Comercializadora Genaca, SRL, Suplidores y Servicios Ferroe, SRL and Materiales y Equipos Gamore.
The contracts were for purchases using money donated by the Central American Economic Integration Bank, the Development Bank of Latin America, the Banco Popular Dominicana, the Presidency of the Dominican Republic and the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).
Febles looked into how several of the procedures had taken minutes to be awarded at wholesale prices that were more expensive than buying retail for the medical supplies. She also explained how the five companies apparently share the same representatives and shareholders. She tried to locate where the businesses were located in order to interview the staff of the companies that had received millions in procurement. Her investigation showed the addresses listed in their registry and on the contracts did not correspond with the businesses or homes at the locations.
Carlos Pimentel, executive director for Citizen Participation, the local representative for Transparency International, said these were “ghost companies.” He said the investigation reveals a scheme of ties between the firms whereby they benefited with RD$350 million in irregular contracting. He said the procedures show deficient planning on behalf of the government, a scheme to divide the purchases to skirt procurement requirements, and lack of controls on behalf of the Procurement Agency. “This looks just like paperwork put together to benefit particular persons,” he said. “There is no doubt that the same partners are behind these companies, and that they have built a network to benefit from contracting with the state with all the foresight and premeditation of a collusion process,” he stated when giving his opinion on the irregularities found in the contracting. He said the companies were openly violating the law.
Febles took her investigation years back, finding out that the five companies had benefited from around 60 contracts from 2016 to 2020, that is, during the Medina administration. The companies were registered by the same lawyer and in the same year, 2015.
26 May 2020