Following heavy criticism, Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton yesterday apologised to the National Assembly, President David Granger and the Guyanese people for providing inaccurate information about the controversial Sussex Street drug bond and contract in August.
In reading a statement to the House, Norton said that on August 8 during the consideration of the estimates of financial papers he was questioned extensively by members of parliament representing the PPP/C.
He said that he gave answers in part based on his “personal knowledge and ability” as well as on information and advice given.
Norton said that since then he has come to the “firm position that the answers given to two questions relating to the payment to New GPC for the storage of drugs in the building at 29 Sussex Street, Georgetown were not accurate as these were based on information supplied to me”. This admission was met with groans from the opposition members.
He said that in the circumstances he wished to express his “sincere and profound regret” to the President, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, all members on both sides of the House and all those present and who had observed the process that day.
“As Minister of Public Health I know that a high standard of duty and care is expected of me and the staff of the Ministry of Public Health so I take fully the responsibility for this unfortunate episode and give my full commitment that it will not be reoccurring”, he said.
At the August sitting, there were more questions than answers about the government’s decision to single-source the contract to store pharmaceuticals at the Sussex Street bond, which Norton claimed was due to the urgent need to find a new storage facility in light of the $19.2M per month that government was paying to use the New GPC bond.
The government it was revealed was to pay the new rental company, registered as Linden Holding Company, $12.5M a month and according to the minister there was no public tendering because it “was an emergency.”
Norton had said that with the “exorbitant price called by the New GPC” for storage at its Ruimveldt warehouse and the conflict of interest posed by using a facility run by a potential drug supplier, there was an urgency to find new storage.
It later emerged that the new facility was in fact a converted house and was still being renovated. In addition, no payment had been made to New GPC, The opposition had been further incensed by Norton’s flippant attitude to the questioning. In light of the ensuing controversy, President Granger appointed a Cabinet Sub-Committee to review, examine and report on the deal.
It completed a report that found that the bond was fit for pharmaceuticals storage but also recommended negotiations for a lower rental fee.
While Norton has said that the contract will not be rescinded, he informed that Cabinet is still to decide if the recommendations will be taken up.
Days after this disclosure, the government stated that the minister misled Parliament and called on him to issue a public apology and also said that the deal for the Sussex Street premises would be reviewed.
Left unanswered in the scandal is the question of who in the government was the initial contact for Linden Holding head, Larry Singh as there had been no public tender and he seemed to have been aware of the search for a storage bond even though he had not been in this business.