Lyken Funeral Home failed to address public health hazard – AG

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Attorney General Anil Nandlall

Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC has responded to a letter by the lawyer for Lyken Funeral Home, Khemraj Ramjattan, explaining in detail the actions taken by the Guyana Government in the interest of public health.

The funeral home – which has been in existence for close to 100 years – has threatened to file legal action against the Government over the termination of its contract with the Guyana Police Force.

The Guyana Police Force was instructed by the Health Ministry to discontinue using the funeral parlour to store dead bodies owing to its failure to comply with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) regulations as well as its continuing breach of health protocols. The Lyken Funeral Home has since claimed that the Police Force owes it some $35 million. The Attorney General has since instructed the Commissioner of Police (ag), Nigel Hoppie to settle all debts with the establishment.

Below is the Attorney General’s letter:

In our oral conversations, I intimated to you that I will respond to your letter after discussing same with Ms. Juanita Johnson, Secretary of Central Board of Health, and Dr. Narine Singh, Chief Medical Officer. Having done so, I now respond.

Permit me to make it abundantly clear that your client was not identified in isolation for any special or discriminatory treatment and that the requirements which were imposed upon your clients’ business were also imposed upon each and every operator in the sector and I dare say, with resultant compliance from each of those operators other than your client. In the circumstances, all and every allegation of discrimination is hereby rejected.

You are aware that the sector in which your client operates is one that can easily constitute a public health hazard if not scrupulously managed and conducted. You will agree with me that the Public Health Ordinance which encompasses the main regulatory network of this sector, as well as, the Nation’s public health apparatus, is completely archaic and out of sync with current modern realities. The Covid-19 global pandemic has made this excruciatingly clear.

Against this backdrop, on the 14th December, 2011, at a meeting of the Central Board of Health, a decision was taken to have all funeral homes inspected and duly licensed with the payment of an annual licensing fee of $20,000.00 per annum. This decision was made the subject of Regulations duly promulgated under the Public Health Ordinance.

Each funeral home was issued with a notification of this decision and was thereof informed to make formal applications for issuance of that license. An application form was attached to that letter. That letter to your client was dated 25th January 2012.

Significantly, every other operator in the sector complied with this request excepting your client’s. Interestingly, for the first year, an application form was received from your client completely filled out with supporting documentation signed by Gordan Lyken. For your client to now allege that this licensing requirement and the fees payable in relation thereto are new impositions is simply ingenious.

Expectedly, in the routine discharge of their statutory duties under the Public Health Ordinance, Inspectors carry out inspections at periodic intervals of the premises of operators in this sector, as well as, other sectors. During one of these inspections during 2019 and specifically in respect of a complaint received, it was drawn to your client’s attention that an odious stench emanated from their operations specifically from the refrigeration unit which accommodated the decomposed bodies.

This was done in the presence of your client, who was notified by letter dated 27th June 2019 of this strong odour, the unlicensed stated of the facility, coupled with a recommendation that corrective measures be taken to address the fundamental public health issues that arose therefrom. This quite lengthy letter was copied to Director General Joseph Harmon, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, Minister of Social Protection, Minister of Public Security, Commissioner of Police, Director of Environmental Protection Agency, and Mayor & City Council.

Your client has failed, refused, and/or omitted to address this eminently dangerous/public health hazard to which thousands of Guyanese are exposed. Significantly, your clients have never denied the toxic nature of their operations nor the hazardous state of their premises. Her response has always been one of seeking more time to rectify what they, by their conduct, have accepted as serious public health hazards.

Indeed, I am enclosing a letter dated 21st January 2021, in which Gordan Lyken informs Ms. Johnson that a separate facility to store decomposing human remains is being constructed at Lykens Funeral Home and that the facility was about 90% completed and he requested some 3 months for its completion. Cleary the 3 months have expired but without avail. I am instructed this is merely one of the several extensions granted to your client.

The decision arrived at by the Central Board of Health was neither capricious nor whimsical. This drastic but necessary decision was taken in a global public health pandemic and in the public’s best interest. Moreover, two subsequent inspections were done by Officers of the Environmental Health Unit, Ministry of Health, one on were done by Officers of the Environmental Health Unit, Ministry of Health, one on the 30th April 2021 and the other on 24th June 2021, with each resulting in a Report being presented by the Inspector to Ms. Johnson.

Please be assured that we recognize your clients’ long and outstanding service in the sector, but that must subserve the public good. I am assured that once your clients’ premises meet the requisite standards by which the other operators are adjudged, your client will be permitted to resume her business.

You will agree with me that public health must remain a paramount priority.

In relation to the monies owed to your client by the Guyana Police Force, the Commissioner of Police is hereby advised that all outstanding liabilities should be discharged with every reasonable dispatch.