A team of journalists and activists reveals the «peculiarities» of medical equipment procurement during the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic exposed the deplorable state of Russian hospitals. The authorities were urgently engaged in providing them with medical equipment and supplies. Ventilators and tomographs turned out to be vitally needed not in a «dimensionless» three months, but «here and now». That is why the government allowed hospitals, regional ministries of health, and other authorities to buy goods and services from a so-called «single supplier» bypassing all competitive procedures. In other words, to sign a contract with any company that they liked or was at hand at the right moment. On March 20, 2020 a corresponding letter of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Federal Antimonopoly Service was issued. For state procurements, the coronavirus was recognized as a Force Majeure circumstance and an «emergency situation» for 2020, with the possibility of extension as long as the high-preparedness regime lasts.
The authors of the interregional investigation looked into what this led to. It is also unique in terms of the number of colleagues involved: Roman Romanovsky, with the participation of Alexandra Aleksandrova, Inna Gresseva, Alena Dudar, Olga Zabalueva, Evgeniya Ivanchenko, Irina Kovbasyuk, Marina Kuznetsova, Dmitry Lyubimov, Andrey Muzhschinsky, Alexandra Semenova, Anastasia Sechina, Olga Siromakho, Elizabeth Chukharova, Anna Yarova; the editor is Alexandra Djordjevich. And by the volume of material, which the team shoveled over to present the all-Russian picture to the reader.
The work was initiated by the human rights fund «Tak-tak-tak» (like many respected and effective public organizations included in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent) together with the media project «Fourth Sector», uniting journalists and civil activists from Khabarovsk to Kaliningrad in a team. The team monitored state and municipal contracts for the purchase of medical equipment and supplies in 83 regions (excluding Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Moscow Region) awarded during the first wave of the pandemic from February to August 2020.
The first thing that caught the eye of the investigators was the difference in the price of the same medical equipment by 2 to 3 times or more. And it wasn’t due to the quirks of logistics or the remoteness of one region or another.
Ekaterina Petrova, an expert from Transparency International-Russia (this organization is also listed by the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent, due to its high competence in its field) notes that the situation with cancellation of competitive procedures in the pandemic has definitely led to higher prices and increased corruption risks. Firstly, the absence of strict regulations allows customers to choose contractors at their own discretion; secondly, customers, in fact, can set their own prices for goods — the main thing is that they can formally justify them.
In most of the cases examined by journalists, the auctions did not take place, either because they were not allowed to take place due to the state of emergency, or due to lack of competition: one bidder each applied for the auction.
The authors of the investigation also came across a number of «strange contracts» concluded at the height of the pandemic with a single supplier, in which it is difficult to discern a causal link with the coronavirus and the «emergency situation». For example, the authorities in Chechnya, when the residents were sitting on self-isolation, urgently needed to build facilities for prohibited public events: The republic’s Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports, on March 13 and 31, 2020, signed contracts for the construction of a soccer arena in Grozny and a sports and fitness complex in the village of Bachi-Yurt. In the city of Nizhneudinsk of the Irkutsk region the local authorities also are concerned about the state of the sports facilities: They signed a contract for the reconstruction of the sports and health center Trud, and in Tobolsk the local government suddenly needed to apply road markings and make improvements to the urban space.
But especially impressive, of course, is the difference in purchasing prices of the mentioned medical equipment discovered by journalists. For example, in April of 2020, the Chelyabinsk regional Ministry of Health signed contracts for the purchase of three OPTIMA CT 540 scanner systems from three different providers: Medproject-Zauralye LLC for 54 million rubles; Medical Technologies LLC for 60 million rubles, and URAL MED RESERV LLC was going to sell the scanner to the Ministry of Health for 60.5 million rubles. A month later, the ministry signed additional agreements with all three suppliers, slightly reducing the amount of contracts. Thus, the most expensive contract worth 60.5 million was slightly «slimmed down» to 47. To compare, the Irkutsk region bought a similar scanner for 29.3 million rubles.
Or this fact: the neighboring Vladimir and Ivanovo regions bought a Matrix IBIS s.r.l. mobile X‑ray unit 23 days apart, with the same fittings: the Petushki regional hospital spent 5.8 million rubles for one unit, and the municipal clinical hospital #4 in Ivanovo spent 8.5 million.
According to Ekaterina Petrova, if there is an apparent overpricing, there may be collusion between suppliers and customers, and law enforcement agencies must deal with these situations. However, it is already being dealt with in some places. According to journalists, in late January 2021, the Omsk region Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against former health minister Irina Soldatova and Victor Babikov, head of the state Health Care Service Directorate. According to the Investigative Committee, officials exceeded their authority by concluding contracts for the supply of medical equipment with affiliated companies at «clearly overstated cost», the damage is estimated at 105 million rubles.
The authors of the journalistic investigation pointed out that most of the customers prefer to buy equipment not from official manufacturers and their distributors, but from intermediary companies which often have never dealt with medical equipment before, and, in fact, re-buy it from distributors, marking up their margin. Why? Expert Ekaterina Petrova suggests a corruptive motive: «Customers may conclude contracts with little-known one-day companies at inflated prices, and then withdraw the money — it is impossible to negotiate on such terms with serious suppliers. Or an unknown supplier is someone else’s company, already involved in the scheme in advance.
Finally, journalists identified the top 10 inter-regional suppliers with the thickest portfolios of state orders, and accordingly, the most profitable on the coronavirus. The leader here is Radio-Electronic Technologies JSC (KRET JSC), a subsidiary of Rostec. The subsidiary manufactures and sells the much-demanded Aventa brand ventilators. Investigators recall that at the beginning of the pandemic, the Russian authorities, having recognized the shortage of ventilators, promised to increase their production in Russia. In March 2020, the Russian government secured the bulk of the state order by purchasing 5,700 ventilators and ECMO for 7.5 billion rubles, KRET JSC was appointed the only supplier without any tenders. But, as we remember, it was not without problems: the Aventas caught fire at several hospitals, which caused some regions to refuse supplies. Roszdravnadzor temporarily restricted the circulation of some «Avent» ventilators, later specifying that there were «violations of production processes, as well as non-compliance of Avent with operational and technical documentation, but did not establish a direct link between the identified violations and the fires…
The authors of the investigation collected information on all makes and models of ventilators, CT scanners, X‑ray machines, monitors and other medical equipment that were purchased for Russian hospitals during the pandemic and compared their costs between regions and suppliers. This produced detailed charts that perfectly illustrate the abundance of facts and figures.
Novaya Gazeta sent inquiries on the subject to all the regions in question. Only Alexei Muzalev, head of the administration of Bolshevruda Rural Settlement, responded. The others responded with silence.
Search technologies used by the authors: work with the state procurement database and own sources.
Techniques used: analysis of collected data, interviews with experts, summarizing the available material, drawing up graphs-tables.
The original text of the article is Russian. Translated by artificial intelligence systems.