Government on Thursday signalled that it has no intention of backing down from the rental of a bond to store pharmaceutical supplies and sought to play down key aspects about the transparency of the deal with a city businessman.
“I see it as nothing more than a coincidence that the price paid and the price of the security deposit and the first month’s rental are the same because there is no way that the government could have paid for the building in March because Cabinet did not approve a payment until July,” Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman told a news conference.
The building, which is located at 29 Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown and bought by Lawrence “Larry” Singh in March, 2016 for GYD$25 million, has been customized internally to store pharmaceutical supplies for the public health sector.
Trotman, who is heading a Cabinet sub-committee that has been tasked with probing the deal between the Public Health Ministry and Singh, said Public Health Minister Dr. George Norton had no role to play in finding a building, but that was the work of his officials. Asked how Singh new that a bond was needed, Trotman said “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Mr Singh that. Obviously, someone would have approached him. I am not sure of the process but at the end of the day the facility is quite capable of being a storage area,” he said.
Trotman said government plans to eventually build its own bond in Demerara in another three years and others in other regions.
He said there was no public notice inviting expressions of interest for the rental of a building because “the mood of Cabinet” in July, 2016 was the need to find space urgently since the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC) had submitted invoices totaling US$137,000 for rental of its bond – 50/50 between the Ministry of Public Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. He said Norton was told to make the rental of another bond a priority because of the apparent coincidence between NGPC’s demand for payment and the end of its status as a prequalified supplier as well as potential conflict with a supplier and bond provider.
Trotman announced that the agreement between the Public Health Ministry and Singh would be reviewed by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams with a view to amending the rental.
“We did tour the facility and found that it was and is quite capable to store pharmaceuticals and drugs because it does meet the WHO (World Health Organisation) requirements in terms of temperatures, cold storage, security and so forth,” he said. Other features of the bond are redundancy air conditioners, 24-hour manual and electronic security, automatic 10-second switchover generator, electronic forklift and washroom facilities.
Asked about the location of the bond on the edge of the usually clogged Sussex Street canal and the possibility of flooding, Trotman said when he toured the facility he saw no evidence of water intrusion.
The sub-committee is expected to submit its report to President David Granger before releasing it to the public.
He also announced that the Public Health Minister would be required to publicly apologise for stating that monies had been paid to the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC) for the rental of its bond. Trotman explained that although the cheques had been prepared, they were never delivered to NGPC. “We are recommending that in view of the statements made by the Honourable Minister of Public Health and, based on the explanations which we have accepted, that he gives a public apology and to explain that his statement was in the context of the advice that he had received,” Trotman said. One of the untrue remarks by Norton was that drugs were being stored in the building.
The sub-committee, which includes Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, have also recommended that the media be given all relevant documents including the agreement and correspondence between the Guyana government and NGPC and photographs.
Decades ago, Singh had begun operating a short-lived airline, Tropical Airways, that had left numerous persons stranded in Georgetown and New York. Since the last administration, he has been a licensed importer of arms and ammunition for the security sector. Currently, he operates a restaurant, bar and hotel at a building at 176 Middle Street, Georgetown that formerly housed Ariantze Hotel and Sidewalk Cafe that had been operated by now Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes.