Embattled Minister of Public Health Dr. George Norton this morning pleaded with the public to give him another chance to “do better” as he apologised for giving false information to the National Assembly on the controversial Charlestown pharmaceutical bond and promised that he would conduct more “due diligence” in the future.
Asked pointedly if he believes he should resign, the Minister, who paused for a while before answering, said he has been a health care giver for all his life who has now admitted that he has made a mistake but that he is still committed. He later said he can only get better and “I want an opportunity to do better.” The Minister said he would conduct due diligence and be more careful in the future to the point where he may be accused of micro-management.
Reading from a prepared statement, he offered his “sincere and profound regrets” to President David Granger, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland along with his parliamentary colleagues from both sides and others who were present in the Committee of Supply at the time the false answers were given.
“I take full responsibility for this unfortunate episode…” the Minister said while committing that it would “not happen again.”
The false information given following questions from the opposition included that the bond was already occupied and that the Government was paying the New GPC over $19M a month in rental fees. The Minister had said at the time it was because the Government wanted to save monies that it sole-sourced the bond from Larry Singh -owner of Linden Holding Inc- for $12.5M. However, it was later revealed that the bond was still undergoing renovation at the time and the Government had not yet paid New GPC.
And while an invitation was sent to the media to cover the handing over of a letter of apology to the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Minister indicated that it had not yet been handed over. He said while he met with the Speaker, he was informed that the correct procedure had not been followed.
“I have been advised to put it in an envelope,” he said when asked about the procedure and informed that the letter would be with the Speaker by the end of today.
The Minister refused to name the persons who might have given him wrong information about the arrangement with Linden Holding.
“I take full responsibility” he maintained and said that he does not know anything about him being the “fall guy” for someone else when the question was posed.
And the fact that the copy of the contract was given to the National Assembly with its last page missing-an issue Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo objected to strenuously yesterday-the Minister said it was an oversight and that the page is now with the Clerk of the National Assembly. He also revealed that Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Health, Trevor Thomas signed the contract on behalf of the Government while Singh signed on behalf of his company. He said while he is comfortable with the bond space provided he was uncomfortable with the “whole issue itself.” As to whether the Government may have “lost some face” in the eyes of the public, the Minister would only said he has “lost some face” because of the ongoing controversy.
Questioned about who in the APNU+AFC Government would have approached Singh -who only bought the building a few months ago for $25M, the exact sum handed over to him as a security deposit – about renting the bond, the Minister said he could not answer the question. He also said he is unware that Singh is a member of the PNCR, the main component of APNU.
Dr. Norton also battled for his position in the PNCR, for which he is the vice-chairman, as with the party’s congress about to start in a few hours’ time he could lose that position. The Minister said that he has given the best of his life to the party. “I fought in the trenches”, he said, adding that his track record would show his comrades that he is committed.