After two years occupying the controversial Sussex Street drug bond, the Ministry of Public Health has finally vacated the storage facility, a source confirmed yesterday.
While there has been no official word from the Ministry of Public Health and the government on its departure from the building, a Ministry source confirmed to Stabroek News yesterday that everything that was being stored in the facility would have been removed by the middle of August.
The source said that the drugs and other items that were being stored in the facility were taken to different government storage bonds around the country.
In June, it was revealed that from July 2016 to March of this year, the government’s rental of the controversial drug bond has cost nearly $265 million. Given that the building was being rented at a cost of $12.5 million per month, it would mean that up to the end of August, $327 million would have been spent renting the bond for just over two years.
One of the main reasons given for the continued rental of the bond was the delay in the completion of a building in Bartica to house a CT scan machine. The source said that the equipment has since been sent to the community as the facility was completed. Residents also related to Stabroek News that they saw large containers being loaded last month and activity at the site has greatly reduced.
The disclosure in 2016 that government was paying businessman Larry Singh, of Linden Holding Inc. (LHI), the monthly rental of $12.5 million for the building at Sussex Street to store drugs had attracted significant criticism. 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.
A Cabinet subcommittee was convened after former Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had been found to have misled the National Assembly on the rental of the bond.
The subcommittee’s report had stated that the lease should be revisited and strengthened and if there was a refusal by landlord LHI, government should give a year’s notice of termination of the lease and build its own facilities in the intervening period. “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 had said.
The rental was only made public following questions posed by PPP/C parliamentarian Anil 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 Singh 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.
Rental of the bond also formed the basis of a private criminal charge which PPP/C MPs had brought against Norton. The charge was later quashed by the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions.