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PPP files private criminal charges against two govt ministers

Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

Private criminal charges of misconduct in public office were Thursday filed against two government ministers in connection with the rental of a pharmaceutical bond and procurement of more than GYD$600 million in drugs for the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall said the charges were filed against former Minister of Public Health, George Norton and current Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence.

The charges were sworn to by the witnesses, Juan Edghill and Attorney-at-Law, Vickram Bharrat before Chief Magistrate, Ann Mc Lennan. Summons have been issued for Lawrence and Norton to appear in court on April 24, 2018.

Norton is accused of renting a house at Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown for GY$14 million per month to be used as a pharmaceutical bond, “absolutely unsuitable for the purpose and way above, excessively at a high rate of rental. That must constitute misconduct in public office,” said Nandlall. He noted that more than GY$300 million have been already paid in rent for the property for which a cabinet sub-committee had recommended the scrapping of that contract.

Lawrence is accused of  instructing the administrator of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation to go ahead and  sole-source acquisition of GY$605 million of drugs and pharmaceuticals from Ans Mc Al. Nandlall said the cost of those supplies from Ansa Mc Al was estimated to be about 100 percent more than the market value.

“That must amount to misconduct in public office so we have identified real misconduct in public office,” he said, adding that the PPP had previously called on the Special Organised Crime Unit of the Guyana Police Force and the State Assets Recovery Unit to investigate those matters.

Then Public Health Minister, Dr. George Norton addressing a news conference on the controversial pharmaceutical bond. He had publicly apologised for unintentionally providing misleading information to the House. His fate rests with the House’s Privileges Committee to which the matter has been referred.

The filing of those private criminal charges against Ministers Norton and Lawrence came about one week after SOCU charged former Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, Winston Brassington with misconduct in public office in connection with the more than GY$900 million sale of three large tracts of land allegedly without regard to the valuation process.

Nandlall dismissed suggestions that the charges against Norton and Lawrence were in retaliation to the charges against Singh and Brassington. “No, it’s not tit-for-tat but the government has set a particular standard and we, the humble citizenry, must follow,” he said.

He said no charges were brought against the Chairman of the Georgetown Public Hospital’s Board or any other official there because there were merely receiving political directions which they could not object to and were forced to comply with. “Our agenda is not to implicate the ordinary Guyanese public servant who works for his or her livelihood (to) involve them in these kind of matters,” Nandlall said.

The Chief Magistrate has set May 7, 2018 for a report on the case by which time the court could decide whether to issue arrest warrants for Singh and Brassington who are said to be living and working overseas.

Meanwhile, Nandlall has formally asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue the charges against Brassington and Singh. If she fails to do so by Friday, April 20, Nandnall said he would file High Court proceedings.