Despite Cabinet’s intention to review the contract for the controversial $12M monthly Sussex Street drug bond, Public Health Minister Dr George Norton disclosed in the Supply Committee of the National Assembly that the $12M monthly bond will still be rented for the year 2017.
$180M has been budgeted for rental of buildings in 2017 by the Public Health Ministry’s under provisions for policy and administration. This represents an increase from $14M in 2016.
Asked by Opposition MP Dr Frank Anthony what percentage of the Ministry’s drugs and supplies are stored at the bond, Dr Norton sought to read out a list which included injections and 21,000 bottles of Chlorophan Expectorant.
House speaker Dr Barton Scotland interrupted the Minister, urging that if the list is lengthy he should provide same to the House in writing.
Building his defense, Minister Norton said he “cannot say what is stored at any one time in the bond since the percentage varies.” Norton told the House drugs and supplies for the Georgetown Public Health are stored at the New GPC Inc.
Norton did say Cabinet is reviewing the rental arrangement for the bond, when prompted by Opposition MP Anil Nandlall.
These disclosures in the House come just under two weeks after an investigative team was convened by Dr Scotland to visit the Sussex Street bond on the night of December 8 while budget debates continued in the House.
The Speaker had asked for one MP from each side of the House to be nominated to visit the bond, because Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had challenged a position by Opposition MP Anil Nandlall that “not a single tablet was stored at the Bond.”
Opposition MPs Irfaan Ali and Juan Edghill were nominated by the Opposition along with Government Ministers Dr George Norton, Dr Karen Cummings, and Volda Lawrence.
After inspecting the two-storey bond on December 8, it was found that the upstairs stored boxes of umbilical cord clamps, latex condoms, lubricant, and IDU kit insertions, while the downstairs space was used to store heavy medical equipment including incubators, a pharmaceutical forklift, and a number of refrigeration units including one sub-zero unit.
Opposition MP Irfaan Ali, after the visit, felt government still had not proven drugs were stored at the bond, even though Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton, said in the National Assembly, that night, drugs were stored at the space.
Minister Volda Lawrence had accused Opposition MP Ali of victimising Dr George Norton.
Back in the National Assembly on that night, a disagreement had broken out on whether Nandlall said the bond was not in use or whether he said no medication was stored there.
Speaker Dr Scotland sought to have the matter resolved by reviewing the hansard from December 8 in the presence of both parties the following day, which was the day for budget debates.
The Opposition PPP had left the National Assembly just after lunch on December 9, since Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and MP Clement Rohee had wrapped up their party’s participation in the budget debates. The PPP was not inclined to listen to the speeches of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Finance Minister Winston Jordan.
The drug bond investigation has not been brought up in the House since December 8.