Norton releases no-signatures contract

Bond controversy

Dr George Norton

-Jagdeo says deal must be cancelled

 

Public Health Minister Dr George Norton has presented Parliament with the contract for the controversial Charlestown drug bond but without signatures and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo last evening said nothing short of a revocation of the deal would suffice.

Norton and the government have come under unrelenting pressure over the contract since he made disclosures about it after intense questioning in Parliament on August 8 during consideration of a financial paper.

It was later revealed that Norton had provided false answers to several of the questions and he is set to make a public apology today to Parliament even though there have been growing calls for his removal and for Cabinet to take the ultimate responsibility.

A copy of the contract for the government’s lease of the pharmaceutical bond to Larry Singh’s Linden Holding Inc has been circulated to all Members of Parliament and the media but without the signatures to the agreement.  The signatures are pivotal for establishing who may have made the initial contact with Singh and single-sourced the contract. This is seen as vital as Singh had not previously been engaged in this type of business and did not have a bond at the ready. He therefore would not have been an appropriate candidate for sole-sourcing.

George Norton
George Norton

The contract circulated by Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, states that it is in keeping with promises Norton made at the National Assembly’s last sitting.

The contract sent by the clerk does not have the last page of the original document.

The last page has been seen by Stabroek News but it is unclear who signed the contract for government and for the landlord of the bond as the signatures seen by Stabroek News are not legible. It is also not known who the two witnesses to the contract are since their names can barely be discerned.

In his evaluation of the contract, Jagdeo yesterday said:

i)                 The contract was for a professional office not a bond;

ii)                 In spite of the public statements made by Norton in the National Assembly and the Cabinet Sub- Committee that the Bond is PAHO/WHO compliant, the contract makes for no such stipulation;

iii)               Exceedingly generous conditions exist for the Landlord for 3 years with a 12 month notice of termination.

 

Jagdeo added: “Which competent and responsible Cabinet would approve a contract of $12.5 M VAT exclusive ($14.5M) for a 6,000 square feet residential building versus $19M VAT Inclusive for a 70,000 square feet modern internationally certified pharmaceutical bond?  Per square foot the government is paying $2,416 for a 6,000 square feet building versus $271 for a 70,000 square feet fully equipped and certified pharmaceutical bond!”

Jagdeo said this  scandalous act “demonstrates the level of petulance, fickleness, lack of transparency and accountability, and irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money. Crocodile tears will not work; this corrupt act involves the entire Cabinet. Nothing short of the revocation of this contract will suffice”.

In the wake of controversy over the rental of the Lot 29 Sussex Street, Charlestown bond to store pharmaceuticals at some $12.5M per month, President David Granger appointed a Cabinet Sub-Committee to do a review.

It has since recommended that government should try to negotiate a reduction of the agreed monthly rental fee and that if there is a refusal by Linden Holding Inc., government should give a year’s notice of a termination of the lease and build its own facilities in the intervening period.

Although government has admitted that Norton misled the National Assembly during questioning about the bond, the report says he was apparently misled by officials of his ministry when he provided the information. The report does not say if any action will be taken against the officials.

Public criticism has rained on government since the deal was made public and yesterday trade unionist Lincoln Lewis added to the critique saying that the David Granger-led government has to understand that they will be hold to the same standard they expected of the People’s Progressive Party and the public now holds them to.

“Good governance will never be achieved in the face of complicity and silence in relation to wrongdoing. If it was wrong under the PPP/C it cannot be right under the APNU+AFC. Where the APNU and AFC in opposition condemned the PPP/C wrongs in government they carry greater responsibility to avoid said and similar wrongs.  Each and every one of us must see they do this for the sake of our own and the nation’s growth and development,” Lewis stated in a letter to this newspaper.

He said that ministers should not think it is acceptable to commit an “egregious act on behalf of the state” and refer to such as a “learning experience,” when neither he nor the party he associates with would have allowed the PPP/C to do the same.

Lewis argued, “Had a clerk committed a similar act, that worker would not have escaped accountability under the claim of a learning experience and the matter would have been placed in the hands of the police where it rightfully belongs. It is an affront to the intelligence of Guyanese to ask us to accept that the bad decision and abuse of taxpayers’ money in selecting the Sussex Street bond has to do with location and road traffic considerations, as against the bond at Diamond that meets storage requirements.

A storage bond that houses the nation’s drugs and pharmaceutical supplies cannot be likened to the storage facility of the various state-owned health institutions.

With proper management each health institution should have stock on hand to meet short-term needs including emergencies, which makes the claim of ‘emergency’ an excuse. Health institutions, by their very nature, have to factor in emergencies in their planning.”

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