As the single-sourcing of a makeshift Pharmaceutical Bond on Sussex Street, Charlestown, Georgetown, continued to be mired in allegations of corruption and cronyism by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government, calls are piling on the David Granger Administration to scrap the contract and go to public tender in keeping with the country’s public procurement laws.
Senior People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) figure, Attorney James Bond is among the most recent voices of reasoning that wants the deal to be scrapped.
Bond whose PNC/R is the largest partner in the governing coalition, told Guyana Times during a recent interview that the deal was a bad one, and should be abandoned, and a more transparent process should be undertaken.
“In my own estimation, indeed the contract should go to tendering. Other bonds may exist and you could have a better deal. I read an article by Ralph Ramkarran, Senior Counsel, and he put it in terms of measurement, square feet, is that the NEW GPC bond would have been far less than this bond now, so if you want to save government some money, if this going to be a long-term arrangement, I think you should go and see if you could get a better deal,” Bond remarked.
Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton, who is embroiled in the controversy and faces the possibility of being hauled before Parliament’s Committee of Privileges for misleading the House, is also a senior member of the PNC/R.
Harvard University Professor Dr Leslie Ramsammy also took a swing at those government ministers who offered preposterous excuses in attempting to justify the wrongdoings of the APNU/AFC administration.
Insult to intelligence
Dr Ramsammy, former Minister of Health, noted that the excuses proffered to legitimise what he described as “a shamelessly clear, corrupt act, is not only pathetic, but an insult to the intelligence of the Guyanese public.”
“Justifying blatant corruption by pleading ‘it is human to err’ is the most reprehensible explanation and excuse ever given for raping the national treasury in Guyana or anywhere else,” Ramsammy noted in a statement to the Guyana Times.
He rationalised that to rent a house located on Sussex Street and owned by Linden Holding Inc as a medical warehouse for an exceedingly exorbitant price, without any public tendering, especially when there are better available options for a drugs bond, is far from a mere mistake.
“The tortured attempts to justify this reprehensible contract reveal an ugly arrogance that is typical of dictatorship, arrogance that has disdain for the citizens, that is shameless and which believes that the government is untouchable,” he stressed.
Dr Ramsammy noted that most Guyanese, even diehard supporters of the government are completely convinced that the entire undertaking is a corrupt deal spearheaded by other members of the Cabinet whose instructions Dr Norton presumably acted upon.
Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran also ruled as unacceptable the excuses provided by government for the shady deal.
“These excuses to justify continuing with a horrendously bad deal makes it difficult to dispel the notion that the Government is playing fast and loose with taxpayers’ moneys…” he expressed in his weekly blog ‘The Conversation Tree’.
Moreover, Dr Ramsammy pointed out that in addition to the internationally certified warehouse owned by NEW GPC, government could have used its own warehouse in Diamond, East Bank Demerara.
“What makes this deal even more preposterous is that the Ministry of Public Health owns an international standard warehouse at Diamond and it is presently less than 50 per cent occupied. This government-owned facility meets all international standards for medical warehousing, including PAHO/WHO standards,” he registered.
“Why would they spend so much money on a facility that was not needed because they do own a real warehouse which is not optimally used?” Dr Ramsammy queried.
The Minister of Public Health did inform Parliament that there was an urgent need for the space because there were supplies at the wharf awaiting possession by the Ministry.
“But how could renting a house which was not ready to store any medicine or anything be the solution? Ramsammy asked, adding that, “in fact, the house is still not ready and the Ministry has paid more than $50 million already upfront.”
This argument was also outlined by Ramkarran who posited that the justifications for not using that bond makes absolutely little to no sense at all:
“The Cabinet sub-committee has justified this grossly uncompetitive contract on the ground that a fire can occur and traffic is heavy at certain times on the East Bank. Well, a fire can also occur at the bond owned by Linden Holding. What happens then? The fire hazard is a potential danger that all owners of buildings have to guard against by deploying known fire prevention mechanisms, not having alternate structures, just in case.”
Dr Ramsammy also asserted that the annual rental cost for the house will exceed what was budgeted for medicines and medical supplies for at least six regions.
“It is more than what they intended to spend on medical supplies in Regions 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10,” he highlighted.
He demanded to know the catalyst that drove the government to spend so much money to rent a house when that same money could have been used to improve supplies to all health centres and hospitals across the country.
He highlighted that in addition to paying for the $12.5 million monthly rent for the house, government will be paying VAT of $2 million as well as maintaining the air conditioning system, electricity, water and security.
“Overall, therefore, the cost would amount to about $200 million per year or $600 million over three years,” he calculated.
Further, Dr Ramsammy noted that since there was no tender or advertising, then how did the company become aware of the government’s apparent urgent need for a building for warehouse?
He also questioned that since government insists the building is internationally certified then why is it still being modified to serve as a warehouse.
“It is intentionally a sweetheart deal,” he concluded.
In this regard, the former Minister is calling for the revocation of the contract.
He posited too that he would also call for the Public Health Minister to resign but it would be unfair.
“It seems unfair to punish one man for the collective misdeeds of the approximately 30 Cabinet members, particularly since we all know that Minister Norton followed instructions and he is the fall guy,” he stated.
Dr Ramsammy also called on all of Guyana to speak out against this blatant act of corruption.
Already political commentator Dr Henry Jeffery, Economist Ramon Gaskin, Transparency advocate Christopher Ram and former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran have called for the deal to be scrapped and for there to be an open public tendering process.