The Ministry of Public Health is still renting the controversial Sussex Street drug bond as it awaits the completion of a facility in Bartica to house a CT scan machine and the expansion of the Diamond, East Bank Demerara drug bond.
In September last year, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence had told this newspaper that the rental of the drug bond wasn’t expected to continue beyond the end of the year as the government was aiming to cease the use of all private bonds by that time.
Her pronouncements were made in the wake of mounting concern by the public and opposition parliamentarian Anil Nandlall, who had pointed out that despite a year passing after the controversy over the rental of the property, the contract was yet to be terminated and that monetary allocation was made for the rental of the bond for a full year again for 2018.
A source from the Public Health Ministry confirmed that the bond is still being used. The source noted that while it is still the ministry’s intention to end the contract, one of the main reasons it is still being rented is because the construction of the building in Bartica to house the CT scan machine has not been completed.
“There’s sensitive equipment that is there for Bartica. They are building the space to house the equipment but that isn’t completed as yet. So, it can’t move from there as yet because it has to have a certain temperature and that is part of the reason,” the source explained, while pointing out that the facility should take about a month more before it is fully completed and then the equipment will have to be transported.
It was also related to this newspaper that currently the ministry has an overstock of supplies and there are 16 containers that have to be cleared and stored.
“As you know, we are building a new bond in Kingston and we are expanding our bond at Diamond. We are hoping to get the one in Diamond finished by August but for the moment we have got to use the [Sussex Street] bond because we need to store our stuff there,” the source said.
Sussex street residents also confirmed that almost every week there are containers being unloaded at the facility.
“They does do work and bring containers like two times a week. Only last week two big ones were right here and they unloaded a whole set of things in the bond there. It don’t really bother the people here except when we get blackout and they put on those big generators that does make a whole set of noise,” a resident said.
It was revealed during the consideration of the 2018 budget estimates that under the budgetary allocation for the rental of buildings, the rental of the Sussex Street drug bond was catered for at a rate of $12.5 million per month.
Lawrence had reiterated then that it was the ministry’s intention to bring the contract to an end and had stated that they might have to “go over another two months because we are storing the CT [scanner] for Bartica there.” At that point, it was noted that the facility in Bartica to house the machine was only 55% completed.
The rental of the building at a monthly cost of $12.5 million was only made public following questions posed by Nandlall in the Committee of Supply in August, 2016. At that time, he reminded that over $50 million had already been paid in rent but the bond was never used.
The deal with businessman Larry Singh, of Linden Holding Inc., to rent the Sussex Street property for use as a drug bond was said to have been initiated by the APNU+AFC government because extra storage capacity for drugs was needed. This was despite that fact that a government bond existed at Diamond on the East Bank, where more pharmaceuticals could be stored.
Singh had never run a bond storage operation before and critics have said the deal appeared to be a sweetheart arrangement to give business to a PNCR supporter. There have been many questions as to how Singh was chosen given the fact that there was no public tendering for the rental of that building.
After former Public Health Minister Dr. George Norton was found to have misled Parliament on the rental of the bond, a Cabinet subcommittee recommended that the lease should be revisited. “With respect to the rental sum of $12,500,000, it is the subcommittee’s considered opinion that the value should be re-assessed as it is likely that a similar facility could be obtained at a lower rate,” the report said, while recommending that if there was a refusal by Linden Holding Inc to revisit the agreement, government should give a year’s notice of a termination of the lease and build its own facilities in the intervening period.