– Avoids tender process for rental
– Secretly advances $25 million
In a stunning case of the coalition government betraying its ideals of transparency and accountability, Minister of Health Dr. George Norton, yesterday, dodged questions about a multi-year agreement which has been handed to a firearms company to store pharmaceutical drugs.
In fact, the government was forced to admit that it entered into the multi-year agreement by sole-sourcing the contract, arguing that it was an emergency and that it could not go to tender because the rental space was badly needed.
But more than that, the government has doled out millions of dollars for a building still under construction.
The company, Linden Holdings Inc, is yet to complete the storage bond, but it has already been paid $25 million as a security deposit.
The owner of the company is one Larry Singh, who runs a firearms and ammunition store located above a restaurant and bar on Middle Street, Georgetown.
When the Parliament Committee of Supply was convened to consider Financial Paper No.1/2016 to clear spending from the Contingency Fund, Minister Norton faced unrelenting questions from the Opposition PPP about the rental.
Opposition Parliamentarian Juan Edghill first asked the Minister to name the company and its principals. It was at this point that Minister began to stutter and to dodge the questions.
Minister Norton could not state the name of the owners of the rental company, nor could he provide an address of the storage bond to the Committee.
In a confusing twist of events, yesterday, in Parliament, Minister Norton said that while the company is named Linden Holding Inc, it’s address was in fact not anywhere in Linden, but 176 Middle Street, Georgetown.
But the storage bond is actually not at that location. The storage bond is located at 29 Sussex Street, Charlestown, the Minister said.
Kaieteur News observed that the inside of the proposed storage bond is still being designed to accommodate the pharmaceutical drugs.
Member of Parliament, Juan Edghill, asked if the bond was a specialized facility to store the drugs. The Minister responded in the affirmative, going as far as saying that it was according to standards set out by the United Nations health arm – PAHO/WHO.
Questioned by Opposition Parliamentarian, Dr. Frank Anthony, about whether there was a certificate from PAHO/WHO, Minister Norton quipped that PAHO/WHO is not a certifying agency. Mr Anthony then wanted to know who then was the certifying body.
Minister Norton then acknowledged that it was his own Ministry, and not an external agency, that was the certifying body.
A highly sensitive and sterile environment is needed to store pharmaceutical drugs, distributed to public hospitals countrywide, officials say.
The Minister responded that the government deals with companies and individuals. Surprised by the answer, Mr Edghill asked again.
The Minister again dodged the question, saying that the information could easily be provided. It took another question for him to release the address of the company as 176 Middle Street, Cummingsburg, the address now popularly associated with a company called Midtown Café, which has replaced the Sidewalk café and Jazz Club.
The second floor of the building is where Larry Singh’s firearms and ammunition store is located.
Mr Edghill pressed the Minister to say who the principals of the company were and to say when it was registered. The Minister undertook to provide the information.
Later in answering another question, Dr Norton pointed out that the rental was for $12 million a month, a cost which will be borne solely by the government.
The government’s primary storage bond for pharmaceutical drugs is located at Diamond, East Bank Demerara.
Parliamentarian Joe Hamilton noted that that facility was built to avoid the cost and need to store drugs elsewhere. The Minister said that the government hopes it will not have to store drugs elsewhere than Diamond for too long.
He could not say how long that would be.
Minister Norton faced the single question over and over again from different Parliamentarians about whether a signed contract existed. He repeatedly skirted the issue.
The Opposition was shocked that the Minister stated that he would be inclined to release the contract if the other party, Linden Holdings Inc, agrees.
Opposition Parliamentarians did not agree, since public funds were involved.
In the end, the Minister said that a signed contract does exist and that he would provide it to the House.
Opposition Parliamentarians repeatedly heckled the government over its insistence on an end to sole sourcing of contracts.
Further the government once insisted that contracts, except those of a national security nature, should be released to the public.
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