PRESIDENT David Granger has once again reshuffled his Cabinet, removing Dr George Norton from the critical Public Health Ministry and replacing him with Volda Lawrence, while Amna Ally takes over at the Ministry of Social Protection and Norton has been sent to the Ministry of Social Cohesion.
These changes will be made official today at a Cabinet meeting, the Guyana Chronicle was told. It is the second time President Granger has made changes to his Cabinet and it comes at a time when there have been criticisms about the performance of some ministers.
The move came as a surprise as President Granger had said in September that he saw no need at that time for a reshuffling of his Cabinet. He had accepted then that errors were made by members of his Cabinet, but noted that none amounted to criminality.
“Every Government makes errors, and we just want to ensure we make fewer and fewer errors as we go along. But we have learnt a lot over the last 15 months,” the President had said.
“Some of them are human, some are administrative errors, and some are as a result of what was inherited,” he had declared, noting that the changes made to his Cabinet in January 2016 were designed to improve Cabinet’s performance.
The President created the Ministry of Public Telecommunications, headed by former Minister of Tourism Cathy Hughes. He also merged the Ministry of Tourism with the Ministry of Business, and placed same under the control of Minister Dominic Gaskin.
Meanwhile, an inside source has disclosed that the President deemed it necessary to remove Norton from the Ministry of Public Health where he served as the senior minister since the APNU+AFC coalition Government took office. According to one source, the President believes that the Minister of Public Health was unable to focus on his mandate.
“He spent more time fighting the attacks as opposed to doing work in accordance with his mandate… his attention was elsewhere,” the source stated.
The source noted that Dr Norton should have been focused more on administrative and management duties of his office; and it is believed that President Granger has replaced him with Minister Lawrence as she is skilled in management and administrative responsibilities.
It is also believed that Dr Norton possesses the requisite skills needed to enhance the Ministry of Social Cohesion, while Minister Ally is deemed best suited for the post of Minister of Social Protection.
Dr. Norton is an ophthalmologist by profession and was educated in Cuba, where he graduated with a Degree in Medicine from the Superior Institute of Medical Science in 1984 and specialised in ophthalmology in 1988. He is co-vice chairperson of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), and has been a parliamentarian since 2001. Dr. Norton has served as his party’s shadow minister of health.
Over the past six months, Dr. Norton has been in the hot seat with several allegations being levelled against him; chief among them being what has been described as the poor handling of the country’s drug-procurement system.
The APNU+AFC Government, when it took office, discontinued the sole-sourcing of drugs and pharmaceuticals as had obtained in the past under the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) administration; however, it was discovered that competitive bidding was not used in the procurement of a secondary bond for the Ministry of Public Health to store drugs and pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Norton has come under intense fire from the Opposition for Government’s decision to rent a storage facility located in Sussex Street, Charlestown, from Linden Holdings Inc. owned and operated by businessman Larry Singh. Singh is closely associated with the People’s National Congress (PNC), a major political party within the APNU faction of the Government.
When asked to explain how Singh became aware of Government’s need for the storage bond, Dr. Norton could not answer. He maintained that the decision to rent the facility from Singh at a cost of $12.5M monthly was taken at the level of Cabinet.
He had told reporters that Government’s need for a second bond followed its decision to stop sole- sourcing and allow competitive bidding. In the past,the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (GPC) was contracted to store drugs and other pharmaceuticals at its Industrial Estate facility for the Ministry of Health.
However, due to the changes in the procurement system, that company decided to charge the Government a rental fee which has been deemed “excessive.”
Dr. Norton, when questioned in the National Assembly last August,had made statements that were deemed to be untrue and as such was called upon to apologise for the inaccurate statements he had made.
On August 8, the minister told the House that a contract was signed with Linden Holdings Incorporated, owned by one Larry Singh, to rent the storage bond on Sussex Street in the city for $12.5M a month; the first month’s rent was handed over, along with an additional $13M, which the minister said was for a security deposit.
Government had described as undesirable the arrangements regarding the contracting of Linden Holdings Inc Sussex Street bond and had hinted at shortening the lease and searching for a new location. The minister apologised to the President, Speaker of the House, Cabinet, and the Opposition for his untrue utterances.
However, Dr. Norton found himself under fire from the Opposition again last month when the Opposition and Government failed to agree on whether the storage facility was in use. As such, Speaker of the House Dr. Barton Scotland instructed some members of Parliament to go to the facility to ascertain whether the bond was in use.
It was discovered that the bond was being utilized, but there was no evidence of drugs. In fact, there were several boxes of IDU insertion kits, latex condoms, umbilical cord clamps and lubricants.
Last January, President Granger also renamed the Ministry of Governance and Protection of the National Patrimony to the Ministry of Natural Resources and noted that subject Minister Raphael Trotman will now be named Minister of Natural Resources.
Former Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Simona Broomes, a former miner was moved to the Ministry of Natural Resources, while Minister Keith Scott was moved from the Ministry of Communities, Department of Housing, to serve as Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection.
Valerie Sharpe-Patterson was appointed Minister within the Ministry of Communities.