- Together with him, two consultants from the institution that funded the operation were also arrested.
- The country’s Justice Minister, Alvaro Coimbra, promised that no stone would be left unturned in as far as the corruption scandal is concerned.
- The interim president, Jeanine Áñez, vowed to deal with the case with a heavy hand.
Bolivia’s Health Minister, Marcelo Navajas, was arrested last week on corruption charges after just six weeks on the job. Allegedly, Navajas overspent millions of dollars on inadequate ventilators. The health policy advisor to interim president Jeanine Áñez had ruled out any form of corruption in the procurement of 170 respirators from a Spanish company through intermediaries.
Together with him, two consultants from the institution that funded the operation, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who initially supported this purchase to deal with Covid-19, were also arrested.
Following Navajas’ arrest, communications chief Isabel Fernandez announced to the media that Anez “decided to remove the health minister” to “avoid any interference in the work of the law.” Current Deputy Health Minister Eydi Roca will “temporarily fill the position,” she added.
Other officers in the health docket under investigation for having participated in the scheme were also fired, Fernandez elaborated. The country’s Justice Minister, Alvaro Coimbra, promised that no stone would be left unturned in as far as the corruption scandal is concerned. ”It doesn’t matter whether (the accused) is minister, deputy minister or director, they are going to be tried,“ he said.
Navajas, who was arrested on May 20, was sentenced on Sunday to a three-month preventive sentence. These arrests, which are in addition to those of a middle-ranking official, took place a few hours after the interim president, Jeanine Áñez, vowed to deal with the case with a heavy hand. ”I will seek jail and order the full weight of the law against those who have taken a single cent. Every penny of corruption must be returned to the state,“ Anez tweeted late on Tuesday.
According to the Bolivian press, each of the ventilators produced by the Catalan company, GPA Innova, has a factory price of $7,194. The interim government, however, paid over $4.7 million for 170 machines. This amounts to a cost of $28,000 per ventilator. It should be noted that the interim government did not pay its sum to the company, but to one or more intermediaries. This detail has not yet been clarified.
The Bolivian executive decided to make this purchase directly in Spain, according to the first data through the consul in Barcelona, David Pareja. This was despite the fact that a local importer had offered to bring the same equipment to the South American country for $12,500 per unit.
Those ventilators have also been contested by Bolivian medical associations, for a reason other than their price. In letters and public statements, specialists pointed out that these devices were not adequate for intensive care, but rather for emergency assistance, and therefore were inadequate for serving patients with Covid-19.
To date, Bolivia has recorded 6,263 COVID-19 cases and 250 people have died. Eighty-one percent of cases are in the eastern departments of Santa Cruz and Beni, whose medical services are in enormous difficulty.