…as Pharmaceutical farce exposed
Transparency and Accountability – or rather the lack thereof – was on full display on Monday as the APNU/AFC Government sought to defend almost $1 billion it had advanced from the Contingencies Fund to meet “unforeseen” expenditures.
Public Health Minister Dr George Norton was prodded and thoroughly grilled by the Opposition PPP/C Members of Parliament to provide answers in relation to a mysterious new company with which the Ministry has contracted to store pharmaceuticals.
In fact, Norton after intense grilling was forced to admit that the Government had entered into a multi-year agreement, via sole-sourcing of the contract, with the new company to store the drugs. The MPs were told that Ministry of Public Health engaged a company named Linden Holdings Company. That company has its registered office as 176 Middle Street, Cummingsburg – the same address as the Sidewalk Café, owned by Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes.
The ‘bond’ for Linden Holdings Company is said to be located in Sussex Street, Charlestown, and the company’s principal listed as Larry Singh.
The House was told that a three-year contract has been entered with the company for rental at some $12.5 million a month, only began in March of this year; and as such was not catered for in the original budget, hence the advance from the Contingencies Fund.
Dr Norton told the House that the resort to have another facility for use to store government pharmaceutical was since the NEW Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation Inc (NEW GPC) was asking an exorbitant fee.
But the Minister confirmed to the National Assembly that NEW GPC storage warehouse facility of 30,000 square feet had been provided ‘free of cost’ to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and the Ministry of Health for a decade-and-a-half.
In fact, the minister admitted that only this year the NEW GPC began receiving payment for the storage of drugs and medical supplies for government. It has the necessary equipment, staff, IT, security, certification and sanitation to comply with WHO/PAHO standards. The facility also has three separate temperature control zones for the storage of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals in addition to a separate area for the storage of controlled substances. It also has testing facilities.
The Government claimed that it would store all its pharmaceuticals at its Diamond Warehouse facility which was built at a cost of $100 million.
Grilled on the suitability of the new storage facility being used by the Public Health Ministry and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, Dr Norton said it was built to PAHO/WHO standards but when asked to produce a certificate to this effect, the Health Minister was unable to do so.
In fact, he said that it was the Ministry which evaluated the company’s facility and decided on its suitability.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament Dr Frank Anthony drew the House’s attention to the fact that under the PEPFAR arrangement, there is a requirement for the facilities to meet international standards.
On the matter of whether there was any public tendering in the selection of Linden Holdings Company, Dr Norton said this did not obtain since the facility was required on an emergency basis.
Acknowledging that government is looking to end all such arrangements with private facilities, Dr Norton said the initial contract is for three years but could not give a definitive answer as to when government is looking to end using private facilities.
Dr Norton was also asked to make a copy of the contract between the Ministry and Linden Holdings Company and its terms and conditions available to the House, but according to the Public Health Minister, he would be unable to do so until both parties (Govt and Linden Holdings Company) agreed to have the document made publicly available.
He said the arrangement with Linden Holdings Company was done through sole sourcing with the approval of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, in addition to a No-Objection offered by Cabinet.
The matter was subsequently raised in the House, since in addition to the allocations from the Contingency Fund, the Ministry of Public Health sought an additional $62.5 million for the storage of pharmaceutical to be met from the Consolidated Fund.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira at this time vehemently objected to the use of the facility since according to the Former Health Minister, the building was unsuitable for the storage of pharmaceuticals for the people of this country.
Teixeira told the House that not only is the building not appropriate, it is a private residence with garbage strewn at its entrance in addition to a lack of security and basic amenities such as windows.
Opposition speakers objected in vain to the allocation since the new arrangement entered into by Government is for the monthly payments of $12.5 million when NEW GPC had previously offered the same service to Government free of cost.
“This is a building costing $12.5 million a month when we were getting NEW GPC free…We have a right to ask about the quality of this building.”