Government Dismisses Opposition Charges Filed Against Two Ministers

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Ministers Volda Lawrence and George Norton

GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The Guyana government has dismissed moves by the main opposition people’s Progressive Party (PPP) to file private criminal charges against two sitting members of Cabinet.

The charges were filed against Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence and her predecessor, Dr. George Norton in relation to a GUY$605 million drug purchase and the rental of the Sussex Street Pharmaceutical Bond.

Opposition legislator Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat swore to the charges before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

But Minister of State, Harmon Joseph, in a statement said the PPP was seeking to distract the public from the malfeasance charges filed against former finance minister Ashni Singh and the former chief executive officer of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington.

The Special Organised Crime Unit SOCU laid the charge against the two former PPP officials arising out of the sale of three plots of state land. They are accused of illegally selling the land for more than GUY$900 million.

“The charges that were filed …against the current and former Minister of Public Health is the PPP’s cowardly attempt to draw public attention away from its own sordid record of corruption while in office,” Harmon said in the statement.

He said the PPP is aware that more charges are soon to be filed against high public officials who served under the Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar administrations.

He said unlike the charges that were filed against ministers Lawrence and Norton, those filed against the two former PP officials followed months of intense investigation by Commissions of Inquiries and evidence gathered by the SOCU.

“The nuisance value of (Thursday’s) legal action is just another attempt by a political party; the PPP that is aware that investigations have revealed that during its tenure the nation was losing billions of dollars each year through procurement fraud and other corrupt activities by senior public officials,” he said.

The Guyanese public will not be swayed by the legal shenanigans of the PPP, which, in effect, make a mockery of the legal system,” he said, adding that the two government ministers will be vindicated.

He said that the David Granger government would continue to take the necessary steps to ensure that those who held public offices and engaged in malfeasance while in office are brought to justice.

“We are sure that in the matter before the court, the actions of our ministers will be vindicated.”

In the allegation filed in the court, Bharrat is contending that on June 1, 2016, in the capacity of Minister of Public Health, Dr. Norton “wilfully misconducted himself in a way which amounted to an abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification,” when he authorised or caused the rental of a Sussex Street property from Linden Holdings Incorporated for the sum of GUY$12.5 million, exclusive of VAT per month.

For his part, Edghill is contending that the current Public Health Minister between January 16, 2017 and February 16, 2017 abused the public’s trust when she without any reasonable excuse or justification, authorised or caused the unapproved single sourcing and purchase of drugs and medical supplies for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) from Ansa McAl Trading Limited in excess of GUY$605.9 million

The private criminal charge against Lawrence comes nearly six months after the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) had cleared her of any malpractice with respect to the multimillion dollar drug purchase last year and observers are curious as to the motive of the complainant in the case. – CMC

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