Embattled Public Health Minister, Dr. George Norton admitted that he did not actually deliver an apology to House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland for misleading the National Assembly about the rental of a building to house a pharmaceutical bond.
He later told Demerara Waves Online News that he delivered the apology.
Following is a transcript of that segment of the news conference
Question: Minister, you have a copy of the apology that you delivered to the speaker:
Minister: No, Sir.
Reporter: Was a written apology given to the Speaker?
Minister: Yes, Sir.
Reporters: Can we have a copy?, Can we see it?
Minister: It was almost the same (as what the Minister read)
Reporter: Do you have a copy of the letter of apology that was delivered to the Speaker?
Minister: That letter was for the Speaker?
Reporter: But we were told that you did not deliver an apology to the Speaker, a written apology
Minister: If it is not there at this moment, then shortly it will be there
Reporter: Did you submit a written apology to the Speaker this morning? Yes or No?
Minister: No. We are in the process of doing it.
Reporter: We are in the process of doing it. We got to make some adjustment.
At that juncture, Director of Public Information, Imran Khan interjected, stating that the Health Minister and the House Speaker broke their extensive half hour meeting to make way for the news conference and the process would be concluded after the news conference. It was just a matter of time.
Reporter: Minister, minutes ago you said a written apology was given “yes’. When you were pressed further, you said a written apology was not given, that you have to make adjustments to make that apology… why are you inconsistent?
Minister: It is not being inconsistent. I seek audience with the speaker to give him a written apology but because I did not follow the right procedure, this would be placed in an envelope….
Reporter: What is the procedure?
Minister: I was advised to put it an envelope and hand it over to the Speaker
Reporter: So an envelope is all that’s missing…?
A seemingly nervous and careful Norton paused for a few seconds before admitting that no apology was delivered to the House Speaker, because he was advised that he has to follow a certain procedure. Asked what the procedure was, he said he needed to put it in an envelope before delivering it to the Speaker.
He said the apology would be tidied up and then dispatched to the House Speaker during Friday.
The media were not allowed access to the meeting between the Public Health Minister and the House Speaker. The media were invited to cover the handing over the apology to the Speaker and a news conference by Norton
Hours before his People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) was scheduled to officially begin its Delegates Congress, Norton appeared in front of numerous television cameras to publicly apologise for providing inaccurate information to the House several weeks ago during consideration of financial papers including one for the rental of a drug bond.
Urging the public and delegates to judge him on his record, the PNCR Vice Chairman said he learnt the lesson from the bond fiasco that he should not trust anyone. He promised that such a situation would not reoccur and that he would conduct proper due diligence in the future. “One has got to do due diligence, take every possible effort to evaluate contracts and whatever you are getting into. You’ve got to be extra careful,” he said. “I will ensure to see done in the future is that I would personally go into details in all these kinds of arrangements much more than I have done before in all areas even if I might be guilty of micromanaging,” he said.
Norton said he does not believe that he should resign because he is committed to the delivery of quality health care, and that he should be judged by his hard political work across the country during the past two decades while the PNCR was in opposition. “I’ve worked for the party. My track record will show my comrades that my intentions are noble, that i n no way would I jeopardise the party knowingly and I expect that my comrades who have supported me over the years would judge me by my work and give me their support,” he said.
The Public Health Minister apologised publicly, saying that he responded questions about the drug bond from the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic parliamentarians on Monday, August 8, 2016 “based on my personal knowledge and ability” and “based on information and advice presented to me.” Asked whether anyone would be disciplined, the Minister insisted that he accepted full responsibility “for this unfortunate episode.”
He opted not to say whether he believed that the government has lost some credibility and that the contract should be scrapped. Instead, he contended that the decision to review the contract between Linden Holdings Limited and the Ministry of Public Health was a collective one by the ministerial cabinet.
When he was grilled about why the bond appeared not to have met the Pan American Health Organisation/ World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) standards, the Public Health Minister said invited the media to tour the facility at 28 Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown.
Norton could not say how it is that Lawrence “Larry” Singh knew that government was not in search for a bond and went ahead and purchased a on March, 2016 for GYD$25 million. Director of Public Information, Imran Khan deemed the question “unfair.”
According to the three-year contract, Linden Holdings Limited is renting the property as “professional office space” for three years at a monthly rent of 12.5 million VAT exclusive (GYD$14.5M).