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Specialty Hospital scrapped; money to be diverted to primary health care

Cabinet is exploring the possibility of redirecting the remaining US$14million ($2.8billion) of a US$18million ($3.6billion) loan secured from Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China Bank by the Donald Ramotar administration for the construction of a specialty hospital for the purpose of bolstering existing public health infrastructure and capacity.

“The current thinking of the administration is that once those sums of money are available that it would prefer that the monies be spent in other areas that has to do with primary health care,” said Minister of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon during a post-Cabinet briefing today.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) had opposed this initiative to the point of voting against allowing it the allocation of funds it needed during several sittings in the course of the 10th Parliament.

In 2013, APNU and the AFC coalesced to slash $1.35billion intended for the project. In December of the same year though, then Minister of Health, Bheri Ramsaran, approached the National Assembly again for $34.4million for the project. The parties voted against the allocation again but their efforts were in vain owing to the unscheduled absence of a member – now Public Protection Minister Volda Lawrence. She was reportedly unwell.

Ramsaran did not immediately return calls made to him for a response on the new government’s intention.

In 2014 again, the opposition parties voted against an allocation of $109million for the hospital.

The parties argued that such sums of funds would better utalised improving the existing public healthcare system which most Guyanese depend on, and that a specialty hospital would only help the fraction of Guyanese able to afford its services.

Khemraj Ramjattan in particular, avidly argued that the contractor selected by government, Surendra Engineering Corporation Ltd, had no experience building such structures. He also argued that the process through which the contractor was selected was biased.

The Donald Romotar administration labeled the opposition parties as anti-development for their actions and went ahead with the project. Eventually, the former government stopped the project, citing what it said was apparent fraud on the part of the company it contracted to do the job. Aside from continuously missing deadlines without just cause, the company also provided fraudulent documentation to the Government of Guyana. By the time the work was halted however, US$4million ($800,000,000) had already been paid over to the company.

Former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, had said that the government was actively seeking to recover these amounts from the contractor.

“Cabinet looked t the possibility in its relations with the Exim Bank for the spending of the balance of that US$18million loan, in the vicinity of US$14million which was actually left,” Harmon explained.

He further said that Cabinet has mandated Finance Minister Winston Jordan to “enter into and to continue where the conversations had already started with Exim back with a view to having…a comprehensive report on the status of the project prepared by a consultancy group.”

Harmon said that in spite of Cabinet’s preferences on the matter it will await the report of the consultancy group before a decision is taken.

“…based in the recommendations of the consultancy group, the government of Guyana will decide on a way forward,” Harmon said, while iterating that moving away from the specialty hospital and toward bolstering existing public health infrastructure and capacity “seems to be the way the administration will prefer to deal with the matter.”