The debate of the 2017 national budget got side-tracked as both sides of the National Assembly challenged each other over the health storage bond being rented by the Ministry of Public Health in Sussex Street.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall during his presentation accused the government of neglecting production to “spend, as money is going out of style”, in the 2017 budget. He highlighted several examples one of which included the storage bond being rented by the Ministry of Public Health.
Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence and opposition Member of Parliament Ifraan Ali examining the controversial bond
“Fourteen million dollars ($14M) we’re spending to rent a bond that not a tablet is being stored right at the back here sir, to store pharmaceuticals,” Nandlall told the National Assembly. Rising on a point of Order, Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton objected to the statement made by the opposition MP.
Norton asked for the withdrawal of the statement since it was misleading. The Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland asked for a clarification from Minister Norton on his objection. “Mr Speaker, the honourable member is misleading the House by saying no medication is being stored at that bond. I ask that that statement be withdrawn,” Minister Norton told the Speaker.
Speaker Scotland queried from the Minister if medication was stored at the bond to which Minister Norton replied, “Yes, Mr Speaker.” When Nandlall countered telling the House that he had reliable information that “no medication is stored there, no tablet” the Speaker suggested that the matter be brought to the House on Friday. “You have no proof that anything is stored there, you have no proof or you have proof that nothing is stored there?” the Speaker asked.
Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton examining the contents of one box stored at the bond
Nandlall then repeated that the bond was not yet used. Speaker Scotland pointed out that the Minister’s assertions countered Nandlall’s statement and offered to produce photographs to show there was recent construction work on the bond. “Well let us go and see what is in it,” Nandlall told the Speaker.
After utterances throughout the chamber of “let us go now” the Speaker in an effort to bring resolution to the matter proposed a visit to the bond. “This is a matter that has exercised the House for some time, and so we will ascertain at the end of this sitting, to the satisfaction of the House what is the true position,”
Opposition Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall
Scotland approved sending one representative from both sides of the House along with the Deputy Clerk to visit the bond. The government nominated Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence and the opposition nominated MP, Ifraan Ali. Hours after, the team returned and provided a verbal report to the Speaker.
Each side told of visiting the bond, waiting for the Permanent Secretary to arrive with the key before entering and inspecting one of the boxes stored in the bond. Condoms, umblicord cuts and medical machinery were stored at the bond. However, Ali told the Speaker that when asked to observe one tablet that was stored in the bond he was presented with none.
Confusion ensued. The opposition contended that the visit was to verify whether there was medication stored at the bond while the government side of the House argued it was to verify that the bond was in use.
Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton
Even the Speaker admitted that he was under the assumption that the visit was to verify that the bond was in use. The recordings were replayed twice to determine what was said but no conclusion could be reached.
It was Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan who rose to propose having an accurate transcript of the proceedings done and examined tomorrow before the Speaker makes his decision. “And you decide this issue because we’re not going to have any final resolution and we want finality here,” the Minister said.
The Speaker in acceptance of the proposal moved for the examination of the transcript to be done on Friday.