June 15, 2020 / 6:24 PM / 18 days ago

Polish opposition pressures government over medical purchases

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s opposition demanded answers on Monday over a government deal for medical ventilators to help combat the coronavirus, saying the contract was worth 250 million zlotys ($63.7 million) but the equipment had not arrived.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski’s handling of the pandemic had made him Poland’s most trusted politician in April, but accusations over procurement have dented that.

Szumowski, a member of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, has denied any wrongdoing and earlier this month survived a no-confidence vote in parliament over alleged irregularities in buying masks.

Last week, state-run news agency PAP quoted Szumowski as saying accusations over the ventilators were “false”, with the first batch having arrived and the next due later in June.

The controversies are swirling two weeks ahead of a presidential election, where PiS ally Andrzej Duda remains favourite though the race is becoming increasingly tight.

Michal Szczerba, a lawmaker from the main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), and fellow opposition legislator Dariusz Jonski allege the Health Ministry signed an irresponsibly vague contract with a company in the city of Lublin, allowing the transfer of 250 million zlotys without specifying what goods were concerned.

“We are dealing with huge mismanagement,” Szczerba said, after visits with Jonski to inspect documents at a government procurement agency and the Health Ministry.

Deputy Health Minister Janusz Cieszynski accused the opposition lawmakers of playing politics with the pandemic.

“The accusation that it was not known what the contract was for is completely false ... the order from this contract specifies what it is for, the assortment of products, when and for what price it has to be delivered,” he said.

Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza has identified the company as E&K and quoted an unnamed representative as saying via email that it had offered the lowest price and shortest delivery time.

Reuters was unable to locate a working phone number or email address for E&K.

Jonski and Szczerba said that Health Ministry had made prepayments of 100% or 65% for 1,241 ventilators, but none of them were yet in the ministry’s possession.

Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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