In order to avoid controversies, Cabinet’s approval is being sought before the establishment of the Food Advisory Committee and the Drug Advisory Committee, Minister of Health Dr. George Norton says.
“We are playing it safe by getting the approval of Cabinet, so we have to take them (the nominees for the committees) to Cabinet,” Norton told Stabroek News last week, while adding that like his ministry others are having difficulties with boards of directors and advisory boards.
At the time, Stabroek News was seeking an update on the establishment of the two committees. It was yesterday confirmed that Norton will no longer be the Minister of Health.
Norton had written last month to the Director of the Government Analyst-Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) Marlan Cole advising that he stops withholding imports until the committees are put in place.
The letter followed meetings held in the wake of allegations made against Cole by the Director of Sueria Manufacturing Inc over the department’s withholding of several of its shipments.
The minister, in the letter which was received by Cole on December 17, 2016, said that the committees will be established in accordance with the Food and Drug Act and that pending their establishment, Cole must first “inform the Minister of Public Health” of plans to seize or withhold imports.
Prior to the delivery of the letter to Cole, Norton had told this newspaper that because many businesspersons have been complaining and accusing Cole of bias and unfair practices, “we said to him that he should stop seizing until we establish those two bodies [the advisory committees on food and drugs] so that they can advise and evaluate and to stop that situation of one person making that decision.”
Asked whether he as minister has such authority, he responded “the law says that.” He explained that the law stipulates who should be involved but in the meantime “we said he should communicate with us before he makes any decisions, especially (with) his immediate superior, the Chief Medical Officer. He falls under the Chief Medical Officer, so this claim about him not being answerable to anybody else is not true.”
Stabroek News looked at the law but found nothing that says that Norton can interfere in Cole’s work until the committees are established.
The section of the Act to which the minister referred in his letter stated that the minister may establish “(a) a Drug Advisory Committee to assist and advise him with respect to drug standards, schedules of drugs, conditions of sale of drugs, standards for cosmetics, conditions of sale of cosmetics and any other matters connected therewith in the interest of, and for the protection of, the public health; and (b) a Food Advisory Committee to assist and advise him with respect to food standards, labelling and other matters connected with the manufacture and distribution of foods in the interest of, and for the protection of, the public good.”
This section of the Act goes on to explain who should comprise the committees.
Norton did not indicate when the committees will be established or when they are expected to commence work.