PPP/C Members of Parliament (MPs) Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat yesterday brought private criminal charges against Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence and Minister of Social Cohesion Dr. George Norton, whom they are accusing of misconduct and abuse of public trust.
The charges were filed by their fellow PPP/C MP and attorney Anil Nandlall, who will also be prosecuting both matters.
The charges were not read in court as neither of the ministers was present to answer to the charges. Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan issued summons for both ministers, who are expected to appear in court on April 24th.
The charge against Lawrence stems from the controversial procurement of over $600 million in drugs and medical supplies from Trinidadian company ANSA McAL.
The charge alleges that Lawrence, “being and performing the duties of Minister of Public Health of the Government of Guyana, between 16th January, 2017 and 16th February, 2017… willfully misconducted herself in a way which amounted to an abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification, when she authorised or caused the unapproved single sourcing and purchase of drugs and medical supplies for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, in the city of Georgetown from ANSA McAL Trading Limited… for the excessive sum of six hundred and five million, nine hundred and sixty-two thousand, two hundred dollars ($605,962,200).”
The charge against Norton claims that he, while “performing the duties of Minister of Public Health of the Government of Guyana, on 1st June, 2016… willfully misconducted himself in a way which amounted to an abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification, when he authorised or caused the rental of the property known as and situated at 29 Sussex Street, Albouystown, in the city of Georgetown from Linden Holdings Incorporated… for the sum of twelve million five hundred thousand dollars ($12,500,000) exclusive of VAT, per month, by way of a written Agreement of Tenancy at an excessive rate of rental.”
The filing of the charges came one week after former Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington were charged in absentia with three counts of misconduct in public office over the sale of three tracts of government land on the East Coast of Demerara, between December, 2008 and May, 2011. In one instance, it is alleged that the property was sold below market value, while in the other two the deals went ahead without proper valuations of the land.
Nandlall, who is also representing Singh and Brassington, told reporters that the charges against the ministers are similar to the ones that were filed against his clients, except they are not bad in law.
“These wrongs cannot go without a remedy. If the government has decided to set that standard, all we are doing is following suit, I am not playing outside of the arena that they have created, they have fixed the ring and I have entered the ring,” he told reporters outside of the court.
Nandlall then said that the complainants, Edghill and Bharrat, are aware of the transactions, have personal knowledge of them, are aware of Minister Norton apologising and have knowledge of the Public Procurement Commission’s report that stated that the purchase of the drugs was done improperly.
Edghill also spoke to the media and insisted that the actions by the ministers in both cases amounted to an abuse of public trust. “This is not something we are raising this morning. We have complained in the Parliament and out of the Parliament. We have written the Public Procurement Commission for investigations on these matters, so this is not something that we have concocted overnight, these are matters that we have complained about. We believe there are clear acts of violations and corruption, somebody benefitted materially and financially from these transactions and that is what is considered misconduct in public office and that is why we brought the charges,” he said.
Norton had apologised after he had inaccurately told the National Assembly that government sole-sourced the rental of a Sussex Street property from Larry Singh—owner of Linden Holding Inc—for $12.5 million monthly to store drugs, because it had been paying the New GPC $19 million a month in rental fees for its Ruimveldt warehouse. He had also inaccurately said at the time that pharmaceuticals and medical supplies were being stored at the location, which was then actually being renovated for use.
Meanwhile, following an investigation, the Public Procurement Commission cleared Lawrence of any wrongdoing in connection with the purchase of the drugs by Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), which breached the procurement laws.
“The Minister of Public Health, by all accounts, was made aware of the emergency to ‘fast track’ the procurement of emergency drugs as a means of assuaging the acknowledged, continuing shortage of these items at the hospital,” the commission’s report stated. “The [commission] was not presented with any information which indicated that the minister instructed the GPHC to breach the Procurement Act. Approval to ‘fast track’ does not translate to ‘bypass’ the NPTAB (National Procurement and Tender Administration Board). The GPHC was asked to devise a plan to fast track the emergency drugs and they provided a plan that reflected a delivery period of two weeks for the drugs. The Minister’s approval related to her instruction for them to present a plan as to how they could bring emergency drugs in the shortest possible time. The sole source method that they ultimately adopted was the fastest means of achieving this because it avoids a tender and evaluation process,” it added.
Others, including former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran have said that Lawrence should bear some responsibility for the manner in which the transaction was executed.