Business couple deny virus test kit ‘overprice’
Facing a subpoena from the National Bureau of Investigation, the owners of a medical equipment and supplies trading company denied allegations earlier aired in Congress that they were overpricing or monopolizing the distribution of much-needed testing kits for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Spouses Van William and Emily Co, owners of Omnibus Bio-Medical Systems Inc., said they would cooperate in the probe being conducted by the NBI, which has summoned them in connection with the allegations made by Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin that they violated the Price Act and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The couple were ordered to appear before the bureau’s special action unit on Monday, according to the unit’s executive officer Kristine dela Cruz.
In a statement on Friday, Omnibus—the official local distributor of Sansure Biotech Inc., based in Changsa City in Hunan, China—said it made a fair price offer and denied as “false,” “unfounded” and “fake” Garin’s claim that the company overcharged the government and shut out other suppliers from selling dismissed testing kits.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered the investigation after Garin claimed that a “very enterprising” couple, whom she described in a privilege speech as having “wicked souls” (halang ang kaluluwa), jacked up prices of testing equipment and kits and blocked the entry of rival products into the country.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also tackled the alleged overpricing and said Omnibus priced Sansure’s Natch nucleic acid extractor at over P4 million when it would cost only P1.75 million if purchased from the manufacturer, referring to the prices paid by the Philippine Red Cross and Go Negosyo’s Project ARK.
NBI investigators, however, said Sansure officials claimed that the Red Cross purchased the extractor at a preferred humanitarian rate before Omnibus became a local distributor.
Omnibus explained that Project ARK’s acquisition cost was free on board (FOB).
“We facilitated the purchase of Go Negosyo at the price of $35,000 or [roughly around P1.75 million at the time of purchase]. This was done via a ‘free on board’ arrangement. Go Negosyo was the one who paid the additional costs for air transport, destination charges, storage and warehousing,” Omnibus said.
When the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service called for a public bidding, Omnibus said, it offered on April 23 a ready-to-use package at P4.3 million, which included items that were not in the Go Negosyo transaction.
The package included 25,000 Natch consumables, such as plastics that are used to carry out a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a laptop and the software needed to run the machine, preventive maintenance and technical calibration fees, peripherals, bonds and retentions.
It also included the costs of bid documents, air transport, destination charges, storage, warehousing, local delivery fees and warranties.
In addition, Omnibus said it was operating within a “difficult” delivery scenario and rushing to deliver with seven days.
“Omnibus stands by its statement that they offered a fair price for both packages mentioned,” the company said.
The company said it only distributes one out of 45 brands that the Food and Drug Administration has approved for COVID-19 testing, adding:
“Even with its exclusive distributorship of Sansure products, there are at least three other companies selling Sansure as well. There is no way that Omnibus can corner the industry.”
The company also maintained that it had no power over the bidding process for the test kits.
“In fact, Omnibus lost in the bidding and so far does not have an existing business transaction with the government on the medical equipment in question,” it said.
The company said it no longer protested its loss in the bidding process “despite giving the lowest bid,” adding, “[We] respectfully accepted the decision of the government.” —JEROME ANING AND NIKKA G. VALENZUELA
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