Amid ongoing questions about its use, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) yesterday facilitated a tour by the media of the Sussex Street, Charlestown drug bond and while it was filled with medication a series of questions remain unanswered.
The government is paying businessman Larry Singh over $12.5M per month for its rental. On two occasions, the near empty state of the bond had raised questions in Parliament about its need.
At the end of the tour yesterday, the media was left with more questions than answers as the facilitators informed that they did not have the responses required to give clarity on a number of issues. These matters ranged from the disorganised state of the lower flat, to why a CT scanner for the Bartica Hospital was still housed at the facility some eight months after it was delivered.
“It is different from when they came the first time. So it is just an opportunity for them to judge for themselves rather than the ministry putting out a release…to judge how things are now from how it was then,” Terrence Esseboom, the Personal Assistant to Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence told the press yesterday.
“I can’t say”, “I am not certain”, “I will have to find out”, “We are not sure”, were the responses to most of the questions, especially on those pertaining to the lower flat and the bond’s rental agreement. The lower flat contains drugs for the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) while the upper flat has supplies for the MoPH.
The MoPH has budgeted $150M for the full year’s rent for 2017 when it was expected that the government would negotiate a lower rental and eventually exit the much criticised arrangement.
A Cabinet sub-committee was established to investigate the issue surrounding the bond and had recommended that the contract be ended early. That sub-committee had been convened after then Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton had been found lying to Parliament in relation to the drug bond.
According to the sub-committee’s report, the lease should be revisited and strengthened and if there is a refusal by the company in question, Linden Holding Inc, the government should give a year’s notice of a termination of the lease and build its own facilities in the intervening period. There has been no word on a lowering of the rental or whether a notice of termination has been served.
Questions were previously raised about what made Singh a suitable provider of the bond – since he had not been in the drug storage business before – and how he came to know that government needed a bond.
The discovery by the media of an almost empty bond on August 8th, 2016 had raised concerns that the rental was not necessary and was done to merely favour Singh. A still almost empty bond in December last year, cemented these concerns.
But Esseboom yesterday stated that the extra storage facility was needed and informed that the two-flat building stores pharmaceuticals for the Georgetown Public Hospital on its lower flat and the MoPH’s Materials Management Unit’s Diamond Bond on the upper flat.
The two flats presented a stark contrast to each other as the lower flat seemed disorganised with none of the employees attached to that part of the bond present.
On crates at the back, latex gloves were thrown with IV solutions and IUDs and antacid suspension. There seemed to be no data entry and processing system in place and when Esseboom was asked about the state of the flat he informed that the ministry had no direct jurisdiction over it.
“It is an autonomous agency so we don’t have direct jurisdiction over what happens down here. At some subsequent date we can get the PRO (Public Relations Officer) to give an update,” he said.
Stabroek News contacted the GPHC’s PRO, Mitzy Campbell who said that by today she would be able to get some information on the operations at the Bond.
Esseboom said that a judgement of the operations should not be made on yesterday’s visit alone as he was not sure if it was a one-off disruption and the activities of the past week that saw it in the state it was in.
“I really don’t know what goes on here what activities, I really don’t know. I can’t say this is what is normal there could have been a number of activities over the week. But we can always get GPHC to come give some clarity,” he noted.
Asked why the MoPH doesn’t step in to help with the inventory and data processing systems on the lower flat since GPHC is covered by the Ministry and by extension the government, Esseboom noted that it was “something that could be looked into.”
“In any enterprise things can improve and get better. If the media spotlights something the ministry can assist,” he asserted.
Warehouse Manager of the upper flat, Silhouette Craig explained that if assistance was sought from the GPHC she was confident that her superiors would allow the upper level staff to assist.
On her level, the operations mirrored that of the operations at the Diamond Bond on the East Bank of Demerara where the boxes of drugs are stored and labeled on the racks according to numbers.
Craig explained that the upper flat was being used by the Diamond Bond as the latter facility did not have the capacity for all the medications that are needed at times. She took reporters for a walk through of the upper flat, pointing out the drugs, what they were used for and the system used to keep track of them.
“The bond here is being utilized because we have a space issue at Diamond,’ Craig said, as she also listed some of the drugs currently in storage, which ranged from antacids, both liquid and pills, psychotropic drugs and STD and pregnancy prevention pharmaceuticals.
She pointed out that at her section no dispatches were done as the space was basically to store Diamond’s surplus stocks. “The suppliers would come and bring their supplies here and we basically store it here and we would replenish from Diamond. They would send an advance delivery notice”, she said.