Amid swirling accusations of a sweetheart deal between government and a city businessman over the rental of a bond to store pharmaceutical supplies, Minister of Public Health Dr. George Norton said Wednesday that the move was aimed at saving cash.
He denied claims by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo that government paid the building’s owner, Lawrence “Larry” Singh two months rent in advance to allow him to purchase the property, fix it up and rent it to the Public Health Ministry.
“Not at all. He (Singh) doesn’t need it (money),” Norton told Demerara Waves Online News. “This is not a sweetheart deal.”
The building located at 29 Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown, was bought by Singh from Desmond Shafiq Mohamed for GYD$25 million on March 4, 2016.
Singh has since leased it to Linden Holdings Inc; a company of which he is a director, and rented it to the Ministry of Public Health for a period of three years. “We hope that within three years the amount of money that we will save will allow us to build one for ourselves because we would have had to pay so much money to New GPC,” he said.
When contacted, Singh declined to comment and get in the middle of a quarrel between the government and opposition.
The Health Minister explained that since the new coalition government decided to buy goods based on open competitive bidding instead of the pre-qualified supplier, New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC), that company has since decided to rent its bond for more than GYD$19 million per month. The rental for the new bond is GYD$12.5 million per month.
NGPC’s principals include Jagdeo’s close friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop. Jagdeo said NGPC submitted a quotation for 70,000 square feet of bond space at GYD$16.3 million per month plus 16 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) in contrast to GYD$12.5 million monthly for 10,000 square feet at the Larry Singh/ Linden Holdings Inc bond.
Jagdeo charged that the Public Health Minister lied to the National Assembly when he told the House that NGPC rented its bond to government under the then PPPC administration. He said the PPPC would make efforts to indict Norton before the House’s Privileges Committee. “That was the first blatant lie that the Minister told the people of this country and the National Assembly and when Parliament comes out of recess we will go with a motion to the National Assembly to send him to the Committee of Privileges for lying to the Parliament,” Jagdeo said.
The issue, which first surfaced in the National Assembly earlier this week when government sought approval for more than GYD$30 million spent on rental of the building, on Wednesday continued to trigger a barrage of allegations by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) that the David Granger-led administration was merely giving lip service to transparency and accountability.
Jagdeo charged that the Public Health Ministry sole-sourced the new bond rather than invite tenders, but Norton said it was all about cutting cost in the shortest possible time. “We searched. We hadn’t much time. We had to cut that expense as early as possible,” he said.
He said the monies paid so far are for one month’s rent and another as a security deposit.
The Health Minister said drugs currently on a city wharf awaiting clearance would be soon stored at the bond, now that the building has been fitted with a central air condition system. He assured that the bond has been certified by the Ministry of Public Health in accordance with standards recommended by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
Several decades ago, Singh had started up a new airline, Tropical Airways, that had later collapsed and left passengers stranded. Currently, he operates Midtown restaurant and hotel at building that formerly housed Ariantze Hotel and Sidewalk Cafe on Middle Street, Georgetown.