– $337.5 million paid for rental in two years
By Richard Bhainie
AUDITOR GENERAL Deodat Sharma has recommended that the Guyana Police Force conduct a thorough investigation into the rental of the controversial Sussex Street bond by the then Ministry of Public Health under the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government and to institute charges where necessary.
The warehouse facility, situated at 29 Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown, was rented from Lawrence ‘Larry’ Singh at a cost of $12.5 million per month to serve as an offsite medical storage facility for the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
The agreement for rental of the bond was signed by Larry Singh and then Permanent Secretary Trevor Thomas for three years — July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019. When the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) took office in August 2020, a special audit was initiated based on a request by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, S.C., to determine whether proper procedures were followed by the MoPH for leasing of the premises.
Based on the report compiled by the Auditor General, and which was seen by this newspaper, the recommendation was made consequent upon the findings that the correct procedures were not adhered to in awarding the contract.
The report highlighted that there was no evidence to conclude that the contract was advertised, which is a breach of Sections 10 (1) and 25 (1) of the Procurement Act of 2003.
On November 21, 2016, former Minister of Public Health Dr. George Norton informed the National Assembly that there was no public tendering or procurement for the contract, since it was a matter of urgency for the storing of pharmaceuticals and the facility was certified for such, in keeping with International Standards set out by PAHO/WHO.
However, the audit report revealed that the MoPH records state that the warehouse was not utilised for the months of July and August 2016, with the first delivery to the warehouse being on September 1, 2016.
The audit report further revealed that the Ministry of Public Health entered into the contract as a statutory body corporate; however, according to the Fiscal Management & Accountability Act 2003, the Schedule passed by the National Assembly on December 15, 2003, lists the Ministry of Health as a Budget Agency and not a Statutory Body Corporate, as stated in the Agreement of Tenancy.
Based on the examination of documents relating to the payments for the premises, a total of $337.5 million was paid during the period July 2016 to August 2018, with a balance of $137.500 million outstanding.
Two months’ rent, together with the equivalent of one month’s rent as a security deposit accumulating to the sum of $37.5 million was paid on July 29, 2016 for the premises.
Former Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, during her tenure had indicated that on October 31, 2016, a “Notice to Quit” the contract was filed by the then Permanent Secretary, and a reminder was sent a year later, on October 3, 2017, by then Permanent Secretary, Colette Adams.
But the audit report revealed that upon examination of the said notice, it was unsigned and issued without the official letterhead of the ministry.
In September 2017, Lawrence informed the media that the rental of the bond was not expected to be renewed beyond December 31, 2017; however, the bond was still being utilised as of October 24, 2018.
The rental of the bond came under severe scrutiny from the then Opposition People’s Progressive Party after it was discovered that the facility was not being adequately utilised for its requisite purpose, as well as for the exorbitant sums being paid for rental of the property.