Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton was today directed to the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges as a case has been made out against the Minister over his actions in “misleading” the National Assembly during the month of August, 2016 with regards to the rental of a bond located at 29 Sussex Street.
It was determined that Norton was distorting facts after being grilled by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Opposition Members of Parliament (MP) over a contract that had been linked with Linden Holding Incorporation for the storage of drugs and medical supplies.
In the National Assembly today, Speaker, Barton Scotland disclosed to the House his belief that a prima facie case has been made out against the Minister. As a result, Scotland ordered that the matter be dealt with at the level of the Privileges Committee.
The matter was presented to the House in a motion submitted by Opposition MP, Dr Frank Anthony and seconded by Chief Whip Gail Teixeira.
In his presentation of the motion, Anthony recalled that during the August 8, 2016 sitting of the National Assembly when considerations for Financial Papers were being made, Dr Norton misled the House on purpose as it related to the rental of a Sussex Street property.
According to Dr Anthony, Dr Norton had distorted information when he told the House that no procurement process was followed in acquiring the facility since it was urgently needed.
Additionally, the House also heard that Norton gave false information when he stated that the Sussex Street Property met with the International Standards and that drugs and medical supplies were already being stored there.
The Former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport also lamented on the fact that Norton had misinformed the House when he said that the cost of renting the NEW GPC facility was for $19M. The Public Health Minister, according to Anthony, had charged that the rental of the Sussex Street property was in fact a cheaper option over a bond owned by NEW GPC. Anthony however, highlighted the fact that the NEW GPC facility was provided free of cost during the tenure of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration.
“The Minister… deliberately attempted to justify the cost of the rental for the Sussex Street property owned by the Linden Holding Company at $12.5M per month and in doing so misinformed the House” Dr Anthony outlined.
Additionally, New GPC had refuted claims by Norton that the Government was paying them $19.2M rental per month, noting that they had in fact offered their warehouse for free over the past 10 years.
The Opposition MP in today’s sitting of the National Assembly recalled too that the contents of the multi-year contract with Linden Holdings Incorporation had in fact contradicted the statements made by the Minister, in the National Assembly.
He used the occasion to remind that the contract was in fact for a professional office and not a bond.
The contract, according to Dr Anthony “does not stipulate anything about the provision of facilities to meet the requirements for the storage of pharmaceutical and medical supplies.”
A Cabinet Sub Committee was appointed by President David Granger to investigate the matter after a ruckus erupted following the disclosure of the information.
That committee had concluded that the contract should be terminated or renegotiated since a similar facility could have been found at a cheaper rate.
Norton has since issued a public apology conceding that he erred in his responses to the House at the time of being questioned.
The storage bond fiasco began in early August when Norton was grilled in the National Assembly to provide details on the matter.
The Public Health Minister, during his presentation told the House that he withdrew $25M from the Contingency Fund (money from this fund is only to be used when there is an unforeseen circumstance) with the intention for it to be used as a security deposit towards the bond.
When questioned as to the urgent situation that required the large sum to be withdrawn, Norton had told the House that “this has never been paid before because we, only during this year, were asked to pay for rental of a particular storage facility.”
Norton was then reminded by Opposition Members of Parliament that there was already $31M which facilitated for rental of buildings by the budget. However, Norton’s explanations still proved to be unclear as to why he chose to utilize money from the emergency fund.
Harvard Professor, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, and former Minister of Health, was one of the many critics of the shady Bond deal. He had noted that the excuses proffered to legitimise what he described as “a shamelessly clear, corrupt act, is not only pathetic, but an insult to the intelligence of the Guyanese public.”
“Justifying blatant corruption by pleading ‘it is human to err’ is the most reprehensible explanation and excuse ever given for raping the national treasury in Guyana or anywhere else,” Ramsammy had noted in a statement to the media.
He rationalised that to rent a house located on Sussex Street and owned by Linden Holding Inc as a medical warehouse for an exceedingly exorbitant price, without any public tendering, especially when there are better available options for a drugs bond, is far from a mere mistake.