– $ 337.5 million paid for rent in two years
Not Richard Bainie
AUDITOR GENERAL Deodat Sharma has recommended that Guyana Police conduct a thorough investigation into the rental of the then controversial Sussex Street bond by the Ministry of Public Health under the previous government of A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU + AFC) and establish place payments necessary.
The warehouse facility, located at 29 Sussex Street, Albouystown, Georgetown, was being rented from Lawrence ‘Larry’ Singh at a cost of $ 12.5 million per month to serve as an off-site medical storage facility for the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
The contract for the 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 Progressive / Civic People’s Party (PPP / C) came to power in in August 2020, a special examination was initiated based on a request from the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, to determine whether proper procedures had been followed by the MoPH for leasing the building.
Based on the report produced by the Auditor General, and viewed by this newspaper, the recommendation was made in the light of the findings that the correct procedures for awarding the contract had not been followed.
The report highlighted that there was no evidence to conclude that the contract had been advertised, which contravened Sections 10 (1) and 25 (1) of the Procurement Act 2003.
On November 21, 2016, the former Minister for Public Health informed Dr. George Norton of the National Assembly stated that there was no tender or public procurement for the contract, as it was a matter of urgency for pharmaceutical storage and the facility was certified for such, in accordance with International Standards set out by PAHO / WHO.
However, the audit report revealed that MoPH records indicate that the warehouse was not used for the months of July and August 2016, with the first delivery to the warehouse on September 1, 2016.
The audit report further revealed that the Ministry of Public Health had entered into the contract as a statutory body corporate; however, according to the Financial Management and 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 Corporate Body Corporate, as set out in the Tenancy Agreement .
Based on the examination of documents relating to the charges for the building, 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 was paid, plus the equivalent of a month’s rent as a security deposit accruing to the amount of $ 37.5 million on July 29, 2016 for the building.
Former Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence, during her tenure had noted that a “Notice to Quit” was filed on October 31, 2016, 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, after examining that notice, revealed that it had not been signed and issued without the ministry’s official letterhead.
In September 2017, Lawrence informed the media that the bond rental renewal was not expected beyond December 31, 2017; however, the bond was still in use on October 24, 2018.
The bond rent came under severe scrutiny by the then Opposition Progressive Party after it was discovered that the facility was underused for its required purpose, as well as for the unreasonable amounts being paid for rent the property.