CEO of the Ansa McAl group of companies Anthony Sabga has said it was his group, in response to a request from the government, that offered to buy 351,000 Pfizer vaccines at a cost of US$8.4 million for distribution to the public.
A release addressed to the "ANSA McAL Family," signed by Sabga and issued on Monday, said the Ministry of Health, in a February 17 meeting with business leaders, asked the private sector to help the government urgently acquire the vaccines for public use.
But there appear to have been two very different government responses to the offer the group made in response.
“The next day, a team of ANSA representatives had a conference call with Minister (of Health Terrence) Deyalsingh and his top health leaders,” said the release.
It said the government had arranged to buy the vaccines directly from Pfizer Inc for US $8.4 million and had to confirm the order the next day or lose them.
It said, acting on that request, the company gave emergency board approval, offered to cover the entire cost of the order and said all 351,000 doses would be used to vaccinate the public.
The group asked the government in return to allocate enough foreign exchange for it to pay for the vaccines.
It also asked for all private-sector companies buying vaccines for the public to be given tax credits for 2021 for any such purchases.
“Governments around the globe routinely encourage business philanthropy through tax incentives as a key source of funding,” said the statement. “The participating companies would have allocated their capital for investment and business operations for 2021 but would be satisfied in knowing that the health and welfare of our citizens would have been secured.”
The release said Sabga received a letter on March 12 from Deyalsingh in response to the company’s offer.
He quoted Deyalsingh as saying, “We applaud your commitment to your corporate social responsibility philosophy…We acknowledge your decision to invest in TT and entrust your resources and confidence in the Ministry of Health…the government and people of TT have benefited from your kindness and generosity.”
But during his Conversations with the Prime Minister event last Thursday night, the PM’s response was negative. Though he did not name the conglomerate involved, Dr Rowley said the Government did not agree with the terms of the offer, which included a request for access to US$8 million. However, it was the request for a tax write-off to which he objected.
“Well, of course, the Government had to turn that down,” he said.
When the conglomerate said a month later that it had access to a million doses of another vaccine, it made a second offer that Sabga described.
Rowley said he was revealing this to the public because the conglomerate, which he suggested owned a media house, would later make the Government look bad.
“I have every reason to believe that you would read it in the newspapers, or see it on the television, or hear it on the radio. But you would hear it in the context that: ‘The Government is not doing its job and we are doing it for you,’” he said.
Sabga’s release said it informed the ministry two weeks ago that it had got access to a million doses of another approved vaccine.
“We planned to purchase 100,000 vaccines in the first instance from which we would donate 50 per cent to the government of TT exclusively for public use. The remaining 50,000 would be reserved for Ansa McAl employees and their immediate families.”
It also said some would be sold to the private healthcare system and some used to vaccinate its employees, their families, and those of a consortium of other private-sector organisations that expressed interest in doing the same.
Sabga said the group could not complete this transaction without the government support and wrote to the Health Ministry for support to facilitate the purchase.
This proposal did not appear to have been accepted or turned down yet, as Sabga wrote, “We are awaiting information from the supplier to present to the government.”
Calls to Ansa McAL, Deyalsingh and Ministry of Health corporate communications manager Candace Alcantara went unanswered up to press time.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article titled "ANSA McAl pays for 351,000 Pfizer vaccines for Trinidad and Tobago public" said the group had bought vaccines for TT. This was incorrect. The article has since been updated to reflect this change.