Pressure is mounting on President David Granger to sanction and even to fire, embattled Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton, who lied to the National Assembly over a comedy of errors involving the sole-sourcing of a pharmaceutical storage bond under construction, under the pretext that there was an urgent need for a storage facility.
Dr Norton was caught misleading the National Assembly last Monday during his bid to defend a G$25 million advance from Contingency Fund to pay Linden Holdings Inc for the storage of pharmaceuticals as a result of an “emergency”.
Speaking on the fiasco, former Government Minister and political commentator, Dr Henry Jeffrey declared “this entire thing is a mess,” adding that it is now for President David Granger to take appropriate actions, which can certainly define his presidency.
“There is no question this whole thing appears to be quite underhand. Mr Granger has to deal with it, how he will deal with it will define what his presidency would be like. He has an option to reshuffle his Cabinet, he can sack the Minister; he has to do something about this,” Dr Jeffrey stated.
He said the issue is a grave one since the Minister seems to have misled both the National Assembly and Cabinet. Jeffrey made it clear the Minister must take responsibility for the fiasco, but added that a proper investigation could reveal if the Minister placed himself in this embarrassing situation or if he was led there by those under his charge who may have provided him with misleading information.
Jeffrey said while instances of emergency allow for sole-sourcing, this was not the case, but rather a situation where the Minister manufactured an emergency.
“It was definitely not an emergency… it is quite clear the situation was not an emergency and not the kind of situation that called for sole souring. It they could have left it in Bobby Ramroop’s Bond (NEW GPC INC) until they find something… He created an emergency by not wanting to pay Bobby Ramroop a lesser price than he is going to pay this other man for a facility of lesser standards,” Dr Jeffrey stated.
Meanwhile, Economist Ramon Gaskin called for the entire contract to be quashed and for there to be an open and public tendering process.
“The deal was badly done. It was not advertised or tendered or so on and it has to be re-tendered. They cannot go ahead because the deal is not properly done,” Gaskin said in a brief comment.
Former Vice President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram, declared from the onset that the Procurement Act must be followed and clearly this was not the case.
With regards to the Minister misleading the National Assembly, Ram said that it always improper and very dangerous for anyone to mislead the august body.
Ram said if the Minister Norton committed a breach, then he must be sanctioned. “I am generally not in favour of reshuffling, because all you do is transferring the problem, if there is one, somewhere else. If the Minister knows he has broken the law or if he breached the rules, then there should be sanctions,” Ram said.
But People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary Clement Rohee was stern on his call for the Public Health Minister to be fired, describing the entire episode as “disgraceful”.
“I think he should be sent packing. This thing is so disgraceful. I sat in the Parliament and listened to a number of lies told to the Parliament,” Rohee said, adding that he was shocked at the “mirth and the laughter” on the Government benches when the Minister was asked about the location of the bond.
“Mr Norton, as we have said publicly, must face the full brunt of the Privileges Committee when Parliament is reconvened. This slap on the wrist of a public apology is unacceptable,” Rohee declared.
Meanwhile, asked about calls for his sacking during a news conference on Wednesday, Dr Norton said he was unmoved, but singled out Rohee’s calls for his removal, declaring, “Fortunately, I wasn’t hired by the PPP.”
The Government in 2015 terminated the prequalification system for procurement of pharmaceuticals for the Public Health Ministry (MoH) and the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC). NEW GPC had provided free storage at its PAHO/WHO approved warehouse for the drugs it supplied on the bids it won.
The MoH then requested the NEW GPC to quote for its warehouse of 70,000 square feet. The NEW GPC quoted at the equivalent of G$237 per square foot, yet the MoH forked over the G$25 million deposit to Linden Holding Inc – a company whose majority shareholder is listed as Larry Singh – for rental of the building in Sussex Street, Charlestown, Georgetown, to be used as a storage bond for drugs and medical supplies for the Public Health Ministry and the Georgetown Public Hospital at a rate that works out to G$1250 per square foot.
Dr Norton, in defence of the course of action taken by Government, has suggested that the rental fee asked by NEW GPC was exorbitant and that the new facility was required on an emergency basis.
He said too that the facility now rented by the Public Health Ministry and the Georgetown Public Hospital is in fact certified as meeting PAHO/WHO standards by relevant Ministry departments, including the Government Analyst-Food and Drug Administration Department.
But, investigations revealed that Minister Norton was being more than disingenuous in his pronouncements on the matter regarding public funds.
Dr Norton was also found to be misleading when he told the National Assembly that NEW GPC was asking an exorbitant fee.
It was later revealed that the NEW GPC has never received any rent from the Government of Guyana for use of its state-of-the-art storage facility for over a decade.
Bandits beaten by North Ruimveldt residents
One bandit is listed as serious while a second is stable after they were severely beaten by residents of North Ruimveldt, Georgetown, during an attempted robbery.
One of the men has been identified as Patrick Goodluck and the other was unidentified up to press time.
Reports reaching Guyana Times stated that the two men attempted to rob Roger Lovell and his family but were instead confronted by residents and given a sound thrashing. However, the Police were summoned and rescued the men from the angry residents.
Although there were reports that the two men were shot, hospital officials confirmed that there was no evidence of gunshot injuries. The men are presently under Police guard at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Acting Crime Chief Hugh Jessamy, also confirmed that a firearm was also recovered at the scene where the men were arrested.
He further stated that the men were not shot by the Police as was reported by another section of the media but rather, they would have sustained injuries at the hands of the angry residents who apprehended them. The Police however, will continue their investigations.