Meghalaya: Alleged discrepancies reported in VHAM Jowai; MACS initiates enquiry
By Ibankyntiew Mawrie
JOWAI, Sept 27, 2017: The Voluntary Health Association Of Meghalaya (VHAM), a registered society in Meghalaya has come under scanner for its alleged involvement in misappropriation of funds sanctioned by the National Aids Control Society (NACO) via Meghalaya Aids Control Society (MACS) for a period of two and a half years.
The VHAM IDU Targeted Intervention (TI) cum OST in Jowai and VHAM CC TI in Ladrymbai in West and East Jaintia Hills were alleged of funds embezzlement amounting to the tune of Rs 15 lakh from 2015 till mid 2017 while distributing expired syringes to Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) thereby putting at risk the lives of its clients.
Recently, a fact finding team from the Northeast Technical Support Unit (NETSU) visited the TI centres run by VHAM in Jowai and Ladrymbai following reports of lack of performance of the regular program (of ITs and OST centres).
It was alleged that the centres had intentionally inflated the number of clients in order to show the progress and achievement and also to receive more financial support from MACS and NACO when in reality, the commodities (syringes, condoms, abscess medicines etc) did not tally with the actual number of clients.
"There is a lot of manipulation and mismanagement going on under VHAM, Jowai with regards to supply and receipt of needle-syringes," an inside source told TNT-The Northeast Today who added that based on the findings, the harm reduction project of these NGOs is not reducing the harm and in fact making it worse by depriving the clients of necessary commodities.
It may be mentioned that these facts are only of 2 and half years and suspicions run high as to the possible lapses and corruption in the implementation of these harm reduction projects across a span of 10 or more years with VHAM implementing 5 TI projects across Meghalaya.
MISAPPROPRIATION OF FUNDS
For the past ten years, NACO has been sanctioning money to MACS to enable the organisation registered with MACS—VHAM to purchase syringes and other commodities but it was alleged that the money which is meant to be used in reducing harm in a region which is already witnessing a rise in HIV cases, is siphoned off using unscrupulous and unfair means.
The alleged corrupt practices of VHAM have raised questions on the efficiency of the MACS in detecting the problem. "How is it possible that such a big amount of money goes out and the mother organisation doesn't know?" questioned the source.
Sources also informed that as per the report of the fact finding team, more than 15 lakh has been misappropriated by the VHAM Jowai in two and a half years.
It was informed that the fact finding team from NETSU also discovered that the NGO had indulged in unfair practices in as far as issuance and submission of quotations to purchase medicines is concerned. It was alleged that the VHAM, Jowai has misused the names of some pharmacies in Jaintia Hills.
It was reported that the organisation had misused the names of 3 pharmacies in Jowai — 12 Daloi, RB Pharmacy and Passah Medicure, all located in Jowai. It was alleged that the NGO in question had claimed that quotations were shown to have been given by these pharmacies but in reality, the pharmacies never issued such kinds of quotations.
It was informed that a license of one Ram Passah, Proprietor of M/s RT Remedy Pharmacy, Ialong, West Jaintia Hills (License no. JH/395-396-397 Dt: June 2 2017) and M/s K.Chyrmang 12 Daloi Pharmacy, KNB Road, Jowai (License no. JH/395-396-397 Dt: February 2012) of the same proprietor was submitted to support the claims of purchased of needle syringes form this shop.
The source said that the whole process is doubtful while questioning – How can two different pharmacies have the same licence number while calling upon the concerned authority to take legal actions against the perpetrators.
12 DOLLOI PHARMACY
As per the quotations received, none of it belongs to M/s RT Remedy Pharmacy or M/s K.Chyrmang 12 Doloi Pharmacy, but it was alleged that all the payments for procurement of needle and syringes were paid to one Korder Chyrmang who is believed to be the owner of M/s K.Chyrmang 12 Doloi Pharmacy located in KNB Road, Jowai.
Interestingly, when investigated, it was found that the above mentioned pharmacy is nowhere to be found in the vicinity except that there is another 12 Dolloi Pharmacy, KNB Road Jowai but the owner's name is one Mr N Khonglah.
When TNT-The Northeast Today spoke to the real owner of 12 Dolloi Pharmacy Mr N Khonglah to ascertain the facts, Khonglah feigned ignorance and stated that the receipt issued using 12 Daloi Pharmacy was fake and claimed that his pharmacy – 12 Dolloi never issued needle/ syringes to VHAM.
"I was unaware and was shocked when the fact finding team visited my pharmacy asking questions about selling needle/syringes in bulk to VHAM. This much I'll tell you – I have no idea about this whole thing and my pharmacy has been used by some other individuals which is very wrong," Khonglah said.
As per the receipt, it was mentioned that the name of proprietor of RB Pharmacy was one Lucky Bareh but when investigated, it was found that the real proprietor is one Mr R Swer who is unaware of the medicines being sold to VHAM.
As per the findings, it was highlighted that this particular pharmacy had issued a quotation of needle and syringes to VHAM however, when investigated; it was found out that the real owner of this pharmacy never issued such a quotation to this NGO. It was alleged that the pharmacy never sold syringes in bulk, but according to the fake receipts, thousands of NS were sold to VHAM.
It was alleged that all expenditures which were submitted/paid during health camps were fake expenditures as there was no health camp conducted. "As per finding, it was found out that for the past one year, no health camp was conducted whereas in the expenditure, health camps were conducted as per protocol i.e., 4 times," the source said.
Five HIV positive clients claimed that they had to share a needle due to lack of needle syringe distribution while alleging that they were not getting adequate needle syringe and people were sharing and getting infected.
"We are being used as guinea pigs by the organisation. As per guidelines, for HIV testing, one has to get himself tested twice in a year but in our case, we have been tested multiple times for HIV testing only to achieve their target and if we retaliate, we lose services like our Oral Substitution Therapy (OST) medicines which in most cases causes relapse," said one of the clients.
As per findings, it was reported that in case an OST client relapsed for 2-3 days, they are denied and deprived of OST and the project manager as well as the counsellor would instruct them to come back after three months, which indirectly pushes them to keep on injecting during the time.
Meanwhile, the Meghalaya Aids Control Society (MACS) has confirmed that they have received the report from the NETSU fact finding team and stated that inquiry has been initiated in this regard.
"We have held a series of discussions in this matter because whatever is alleged is of a serious nature putting people's lives at stake. If the allegations turn out to be true, we will take stringent actions against those involved in the case," Acting Project Director of MACS Dr RE Donn said.
Dr Donn further stated that MACS is investigating into the matter while refusing to provide a deadline for the final report to be submitted stating "The matter is under investigation and we are trying to ascertain the facts based on ground realities."
The Acting Project Director informed that MACS had conducted 3 visits in one month and the final report is yet to be completed.
When contacted, the Project Director of VHAM Eudora Wanda Warjri said the whole fact finding process was very biased stating that it was not done in a professional manner. "These are mere allegations and we haven't received any formal report on this matter so we can't conclude at anything and everything that we have heard are based on hearsay," Warjri said.
The VHAM Project Director also informed that they will initiate their own investigation into the matter and as of now, they are still waiting for the formal report from MACS. "This report is not yet formal, nothing is proven, everything is based on allegations and its complaints made from certain quarters who are not happy with our staffs," she added.
While admitting that there are some mistakes in the management, Warjri said "We are not perfect but it is not something which is so big that it amounts to a cheating or fraud case. We try to resolve the issues and we don't want to make it into a big issue because it will affect the morale of the staffs and clients."
It may be mentioned that Meghalaya comes third in Northeast in as far as HIV prevalence amongst pregnant mothers is concerned with EJH, EKH and WJH being considered as 'High Burdened' districts in Meghalaya. According to NACO report and ART Centre statistics, infection is shooting in Meghalaya with almost 30 -40 persons infected every month.
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