Tax pay­ers cheated of $150 mil­lion

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER -

The

scan­dalous Sus­sex Street Drug Bond deal in­volv­ing a monthly rental of $12.5 to a friendly city busi­ness­man is to con­tinue un­der the end of year. This is a prom­ise by Health Min­is­ter Volda Lawrence. By then tax pay­ers would have lost some $150 mil­lion go­ing down the drain in what is con­sid­ered to be among the most bla­tent cor­rupt deal un­der APNU/ AFC govern­ment.

De­spite wide­spread con­dem­na­tion of the deal which is widely be­lieved to be a pay­back for cam­paign fund­ing dur­ing the last elec­tion, the govern­ment has bluntly re­fused to ter­mi­nate the con­tract wich was handed out in vi­o­la­tion of all pro­cure­ment laws and prac­tices.

Af­ter the scan­dal broke out it was found that the build­ing was an or­di­nary rental build­ing, un­fit to store drugs. The owner of the premises had no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in drug stor­age. Fur­ther, the govern­ment had enough drug stor­age space. An ex­pe­ri­enced pri­vate drug im­porter had of­fered to store drugs free of change but this was de­nied.

Lawrence’s pro­nounce­ment comes in wake of the con­cern ex­pressed by op­po­si­tion par­lia­men­tar­ian Anil Nand­lall that one year af­ter the scan­dal over the rental of the prop­erty, the con­tract was yet to be ter­mi­nated.

De­spite the con­tro­versy over the rental of the prop­erty, the Min­istry bud­geted $ 150 mil­lion for the full year’s rent for 2017. Ob­servers had ex­pressed the view that the con­tract should have been scrapped im­me­di­ately and that those monies should never have been ap­proved.

Con­tro­versy erupted last year af­ter it was re­vealed that govern­ment was pay­ing busi­ness­man Larry Singh, of Linden Hold­ing Inc., a monthly rental of $12.5 mil­lion for the build­ing at Sus­sex Street to store drugs.

A Cab­i­net sub­com­mit­tee was con­vened af­ter for­mer Pub­lic Health Min­is­ter Dr. Ge­orge Nor­ton had been found ly­ing to Par­lia­ment in re­la­tion to the rental of the bond.

The sub­com­mit­tee’s re­port had stated that the lease should be re­vis­ited and strength­ened and if there was a re­fusal by Linden Hold­ing Inc, the land­lord, govern­ment should give a year’s no­tice of a ter­mi­na­tion of the lease and build its own fa­cil­i­ties in the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod. “With re­spect to the rental sum of $12,500,000, it is the sub­com­mit­tee’s con­sid­ered opinion that the value should be re-as­sessed as it is likely that a sim­i­lar fa­cil­ity could be ob­tained at a lower rate,” the re­port said.

Just over a year ago, the govern­ment in re­sponse to the sub­com­mit­tee re­port said that the lease was “un­doubt­edly un­de­sir­able” and that it would con­sider short­en­ing it while ex­pe­dit­ing the search for an­other fa­cil­ity. A year later, the lease con­tin­ues, mean­ing that Singh con­tin- ues to col­lect a large rental. It is un­clear if the rental was ad­justed.

Nand­lall said that de­spite the sub-com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion of an early ter­mi­na­tion of the five-year con­tract, it had not been ter­mi­nated. “The na­tion’s tax­pay­ers [have] so far lost nearly 200 mil­lion dol­lars in the process and the Trea­sury con­tin­ues to bleed at 14 mil­lion dol­lars month. Yet we are told that we can­not af­ford to of­fer sub­si­dies to our pen­sion­ers in re­la­tion to wa­ter rates and elec­tric­ity bills; we are told that we can­not af­ford to re­move VAT from pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion for our chil­dren, med­i­cal sup­plies for our sick, ed­u­ca­tional sup­plies for our stu­dents, agri­cul­tural and min­ing equip­ment for our farm­ers and min­ers; we are told that we do not have money for the sugar in­dus­try so tens of thou­sands of peo­ple are be­ing put on the bread­line,” Nand­lall stressed.

The rental was only made pub­lic fol­low­ing ques­tions posed by Nand­lall in the Com­mit­tee of Sup­ply in Au­gust, 2016. At that time, he re­minded that over $50 mil­lion had al­ready been paid in rent but the bond was never used.

The deal with Singh to rent the Sus­sex Street prop­erty for use as a drug bond was said to have been ini­ti­ated by the APNU+AFC govern­ment be­cause ex­tra stor­age ca­pac­ity for drugs was needed. This was de­spite that fact that a govern­ment bond ex­isted at Di­a­mond on the East Bank, where more phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals could be stored.

Singh had never run a bond stor­age op­er­a­tion be­fore and crit­ics have said the deal ap­peared to be a sweet­heart ar­range­ment to give business to a PNCR sup­porter. There have been many ques­tions as to how Singh was cho­sen given the fact that there was no pub­lic ten­der­ing for the rental of that build­ing.

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