APNU/AFC Cabinet used George Norton as a pawn – VP Jagdeo

Dr. George Norton.

…charges over Sussex St bond to be discontinued

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has signalled that the Administration will not be pursuing charges against former Minister of Health under the then A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government, Dr George Norton, for his role in the Sussex Street bond controversy.

The Vice President made this revelation during an interview with social commentator Mikhail Rodriguez. According to Jagdeo, Dr Norton acted pursuant to instructions from the then APNU/AFC Cabinet and it would make no sense pursuing a pawn of the former Government.

“We are not rushing forward to charge everyone willy nilly… they had a case against Norton, and we recognised that Norton acted pursuant to the Cabinet and we’re dropping that case too. Doesn’t make sense prosecuting George Norton for something that the Cabinet ordered him to do,” Jagdeo said in the interview.

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

“George Norton was a pawn. No use we drag him through the court. We don’t have an enemy image like what they did. Go after all the PPP leaders like they did. Like Nigel Dharamlall, who they charged because he was a member of the Board and the Rice Board didn’t update the general ledger. And he was charged, as a member of the Board! Which is a function of management. That’s how they were vindictive.”

He referenced current Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington. The two men were charged under the former APNU/AFC Government for their role in land sales that were approved by the previous People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Cabinet.

Former Minister of Health Dr George Norton

Jagdeo noted that other members of the PPP were also witch-hunted by the authorities, which included the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA).

“Look how many times we were invited to SOCU. (Former) Prime Minister Sam Hinds had to go. (Former President Donald) Ramotar had to go to SOCU. (Former Head of the Presidential Secretariat) Roger Luncheon had to go to SOCU. I had to go to SOCU.”

“Almost every Minister from the PPP Cabinet had to go to SOCU. And they did not find a shred of evidence. Not for SOCU or SARA to come up with charges that could have had a prosecution. They were just frivolous,” he said.

Misconduct in public office

Norton was charged back in April for misconduct in public office for his role in the Sussex Street, Georgetown bond fiasco. The Audit Office of Guyana had conducted a special audit into the Sussex Street drug bond rental which found that there were clear breaches of the Procurement Act and recommended that the Police be called in and the Legal Affairs Ministry take disciplinary steps where necessary.

According to the report on the special audit produced by Auditor General Deodat Sharma and addressed to Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, the contract for a medical storage bond was not advertised or publicly procured by the former Administration.

This is a breach of Tender Board procedures and the Procurement Act of 2003. The then Public Health Ministry always claimed that it rented the bond from Linden Holdings Inc because it was needed on an emergency basis. However, the Audit Office found that despite $25 million being paid for the first two months, the bond was rented (July and August 2016), the bond was not used until the third month.

Another issue is the fact that the bond was underutilised and under-equipped despite contractual stipulations. For instance, the contract mandated that the building would be equipped with 16 upright refrigerators. But at the time of physical verification on April 11, 2017, only 14 were seen.

Additionally, physical verification done by the Audit Office in 2017 found that the bond contained only 472 IUD kits and associated supplies and 1200 umbilical cord clamps. In addition, there were 2130 amphotericin 50mg injections and 8300 condoms.

There is also uncertainty about the date the contract actually ended. The contract was supposed to last from June 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019. In accordance with the need for one-year notice, then Public Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Trevor Thomas had sent an initial Notice of Quit letter dated October 31, 2016, informing Linden Holdings of the intention to vacate the premises by November 1, 2017.

“However, examination of this letter revealed that it was unsigned and issued without the official letterhead of the Ministry. Evidence was seen whereby someone would have signed a Document Transmission Slip on 8 November 2016 receiving the Notice to Quit,” the Auditor General had said.