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Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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There is mounting pushback against a proposed Social Security Investment of 7 million dollars in a company named Pharmacy Express Limited.

A company search shows that it is owned by a couple, Julius and Angela Zabaneh who own multiple retail and wholesale pharmaceutical interests.

As it is required to do under law, Social security published the loan proposal which is to provide Pharmacy Express with, quote, "refinancing and inventory purchases."

The blowback on social media has been strong, sustained and immediate. And above all that significant glamour to kill the loan, the CEO in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Julio Sabido sent out an extraordinary Sunday evening press release saying, quote, "The ministry places on record some concerns related to this loan and hopes to meet the autonomous SSB to relay its concerns before it makes its final determination on this proposed loan."

That's very serious for the public sector to makes its objection known to a private sector transaction. But, reports tell us that the Ministry has some history with Julius and Angela Zabaneh through another company named Medigen which qualified in last year's tendering process.

Today, CEO Sabido would only tell us, quote, "at this time, a process has been triggered, the MOHW is putting in writing its concerns and those will be forwarded to the SSB Board." End quote.

And the Chairman of the SSB Board Nigeli Sosa told us, that she has indicated to the CEO that it would be good to meet with Ministry Of Health to understand their concerns.

She added that the intent for publishing the notice is to receive concerns and to take them into consideration. She welcomes the Ministry expressing its concerns because, quote, "we recognize that there may be information that we were unaware of such as the case in point with MOHW but the public also need to do their part." So, those in the public who do have an objection have two more weeks to make it known in writing.

The UDP has already put their objection in writing, but in a press release, which says, quote, "The role of the Social Security Investment Committee is to support projects that contribute meaningfully to the development of our nation. A $7 million loan to a�pharmacy does nothing for the development of Belize and is an investment too risky for the workers of this country to approve."

Channel 7

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Marty Offline OP
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Cabinet Has Reservations About Pharmacy Express Loans

Pharmacy Express - it's a multimillion dollar pharmaceutical supplier that operates out of a non descript building tucked away at the back of a property at mile 5 and a half on the George Price Highway.

But, the Social Security Board Investment Committee has looked favorably on a 7 million dollar loan application from this company to purchase inventory and re-finance debt.

And the public notice of this loan proposal has triggered waves of major public backlash - from social media, to the Ministry of Health, and now to the big room in Belmopan.

Sources tell us that Cabinet today also raised its concerns about the proposed loan - and also took note of information from the Ministry of Health that Pharmacy Express may not have a licensing issue. The Ministry of Health also had issues with Medigen - a company addressed at the same building on the Western Highway - which won a number of tenders last year - but with whom they have had supply problems.

And while the SSB board is autonomous - it is also appointed by the Government of the day - and Cabinet's position is expected to influence board members.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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PM Not Enthusiastic About Pharmacy Express Investment

The media also took the opportunity to ask the PM about several important topics of urgent national interest, including the public concerns raised about the proposed SSB investment in Pharmacy Express.

As we told you, this multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical supplier, which operates out of a unmarked building located at mile 5 on the George Price Highway, has applied for a loan with the Social Security Board. After reviewing their documents, the SSB's investment committee looked favorably on their application for 7 million dollars to purchase inventory and re-finance its existing debt.

The SSB loan approval has been criticized in the public domain, and sources told our newsroom that the topic came up at yesterday's Cabinet meeting - where it did not received a warm reception. Here's what the PM had to say when we asked about it:

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"Legally, remember that they are an autonomous body and if I - if the cabinet were to give a position right now, we would be opening up ourselves to a lawsuit. And, you know, there is a certain person chomping at the bit to be able to come out and sue us. So, we cannot say anything right now, but the Ministry of Health has expressed some concerns. And they, I think, have written to Social Security, and they and I think other citizens would probably also express their concerns. This shows that the process is working. You start off. You put in your application, then there's the Investment Group Committee from within Social Security that makes a recommendation to the investment committee. The investment committee then passes it on to the board. Then when the board agrees, they informed the individual, the company that is approved. But then, it is publicized to hear back from the people. Remember, this is a part of the reforms that were done after the G-7, when we were saying that, you know, we have to put tighter controls on our money. Thank you very much, everybody."

Channel 7


Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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SSB Money Won't Go To Pharmacy Express

Ever since July 22nd when the notice was published that Pharmacy Express Limited applied for a 7 million dollar loan from Social Security Board - the company has been taking a pounding, in the press, on social media, and even publicly from the Ministry of Health.

Perhaps that culminated yesterday with the Ministry of Health and Wellness's raid of Pharmacy Express's pharmacies at the Fort Street Tourism Village.

And, this evening, it seemed that the company has had enough: it has officially - as of yesterday - withdrawn its loan application at the Social Security Board.

A release from Social Security says it had informed Pharmacy Express that the Ministry of Health and Works had expressed concern with the fact that, quote, "presently (the company) is not in possession of a pharmaceutical license to operate and therefore the entity was operating without a license and should not be dispensing or supplying pharmaceuticals to the public." End quote.

Pharmacy Express had until yesterday to respond - and it did not - but instead sent the SSB CEO a letter saying "they were withdrawing their loan application."

And while that withdrawal will relieve some degree public anxiety, we note that the Social Security Investment Committee had already unanimously approved a loan for a "pharmaceutical company that had no license," which seems to fall well short of the prudential standard required for managing public funds.

But, the revelation of the Ministry's exact reservations perhaps shines some light on the motive behind yesterday's raid and seizure of controlled drugs at Pharmacy Express's retail outlets in the FSTV - which attorneys for the company maintain was illegal. We note that only two of the company's four pharmacies were inspected - since some higher up reportedly called the Ministry's Inspectors to call off the search.

Channel 7

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PM Says SSB Learned A Lot With Pharmacy Express Investment Proposal

The press asked Prime Minister Briceno for his opinion on the saga between the Social Security Board and Pharmacy Express Limited.

As we told you last night, Pharmacy Express withdrew its application for a loan of 7 million from SSB after weeks of harsh criticism in the public domain. Also, as we reported, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has pointed out that the company does not have a pharmacy license to operate, and that it should not have been dispensing or supplying pharmaceuticals to the public.

If the procedures did not oblige the SSB to publish this loan application for public knowledge, the loan proceeds from the country's worker's fund would have been invested without question - indeed the SSB Investment Committee had voted unanimously in favor of it. So, what caused the SSB Investment Committee to drop the ball on due diligence? Here's how the Prime Minister bristled when we asked if they should resign:

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"As you all know, there is there's almost a firewall between the government and Social Security. That was enacted after 2004 to ensure that Social Security has a level of independence. It does not mean that they can act totally independent of the policies of the day, of the government. But it certainly means that the decision-making process is made by them. What we have seen yesterday shows or gives proof that the system is working. The Social Security Board they have an investment committee within Social Security. And then, from that, it goes on to the Social Security Investment Committee for the board that reports to the board based on that. It went through the board, and then the board decided that they would approve that loan. And then the next step now is to make it public, to get a reaction from the public. And obviously, the public, there's a lot of concerns as to why this should be approved or why it should not be approved. But the most important thing was that the Ministry of Health and Wellness realized that, hold on, this company has been operating without a license, so if they're operating without a license, then that by itself could be a reason to disqualify."

Daniel Ortiz
"What are your views on the investment committee not picking up on the fact that Pharmacy Express did not have a pharmacy license? Shouldn't they resign for what has happened? They should have done more due diligence."

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"Well, there are times that you have covered a story that was wrong, and you were not asked to resign. What you are asked is to be more careful. So, likewise, you could say it to the team that the investment team has to be more thorough in their investigation of every company that applies for monies from Social Security. So, my response is that this should be a lesson to everyone, especially and particularly the investment committee and even the Board."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, are you concerned, though, that the raid from the Ministry of Health and Wellness officials on the Fort Street Tourism Properties of Pharmacy Express could have legal implications for your government, given that the attorneys, the defense attorneys for that company have suggested that that search was illegal, in their opinion."

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"Well, I was told that when they started, they were asked for a search warrant, and they did get the search warrant, so that it is and should take care of that. But again, I'm not an attorney, so I really can't comment much about that."

Channel 7



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