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Refund for Debra Backer’s cancer treatment pending, while millions spent on govt officials’ health care

Debra Backer

The Guyana government is yet to refund less than GUY$10 million in medical expenses to the family of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Debra Backer who succumbed to cancer last year, even as government ministers and ruling party associates have drawn down millions of dollars in payments for various illnesses and dental assistance.

Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman confirmed to Demerara Waves Online News that while Backer was ill government had expressed a willingness to favourably consider a request. Since her demise, he said Opposition Leader David Granger has submitted several of Backer’s bills to government for a refund.

Trotman said he has been also lobbying government to accede to address the request for the monies spent on Backer’s condition. “I have taken the initiative of approaching the government to say that this is a former Deputy Speaker and long-standing member of parliament and daughter of the soil of Guyana and I believe that they have an obligation to offset some of the expenses,” he said.  The Speaker said he has taken the responsibility off of Backer’s family and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

He said he has been told that government would refund all or a major portion of the expenditure. She died in March, 2014.

Her successor, Basil Williams of the main opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) earlier Friday told a news conference that the issue of Backer receiving assistance had arisen and the information was that the office of Deputy Speaker does not benefit. “That’s the point I’m talking about discrimination- the government pays for that all through his sickness but they never ever paid a cent for Debra Backer who was Deputy Speaker,” he said.

Demerara Waves Online News was told that the amount ranges from GUY$2.2 million to about GUY$5 million.

Executive Member of APNU and its major constituent, People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Ronald Bulkan said the payment of medical expenses for a number of senior government officials highlights the disparity between those in government and ordinary people. “What the news item and the question bring to the fore and highlight is both the disconnect and the inequity that characterize this administration where they are concerned and benefits for the few,” he said.

Figures  in a Ministry of Health document show that GUY$116 million have been spent in one year on then Presidential Advisor on Science, Technology and the Environment, Navin Chandrapal’s cancer treatment overseas. However, other cancer patients received GUY$400,000 to GUY$5 million.

In terms of unspecified dental assistance, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai got GUY$2.1 million; Human Services Minister, Jennifer Webster GUY$1.3 million; Prime Minister Samuel Hinds GUY$28,240 and his wife, Yvonne Hinds, GUY$788,880.

Junior Agriculture Minister, Ali Baksh’s coronary heart bypass cost the National Treasury GUY$12.2 million and Senior Agriculture Minister, Leslie Ramsammy’s medical expenses during 2012-2013 was GUY$1 million.

The government also paid Attorney General, Anil Nandlall’s medical expenses in the United States totaling GUY$4.9 million. Retired Judge, B.S. Roy’s coronary heart bypass surgery done in Trinidad and Tobago cost Guyanese taxpayers GUY$5.9 million.

Public Service Minister, Jennifer Westford; Education Minister Priya Manickchand, then Local Government Minister,  Ganga Persaud and Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett have also tapped into the treasury for the payment for various tests and treatments on different occasions.