President David Granger and Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence on Thursday morning commissioned the former Ocean View Hotel as the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control but the assets have not yet been transferred to the Government of Guyana and there are many questions still surrounding its costs, whether the contractors were paid and how the billion-dollar contract was awarded.
The facility is located at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara and currently serves as the COVID-19 hospital but it is not functioning as it is awaiting equipment and staff.
When approached by members of the media about the cost of the land, the Public Health Minister said: “We haven’t had any transfer or anything like that, all of those matters are in the Ministry of Legal Affairs.”
Pressed on the matter following the commissioning ceremony, the Minister said: “I know that the Ministry spoke to Mr Jacob Rambarran [owner of Ocean View Hotel] and I know that since his consent to help us in the situation to use the place and so on, that has now transferred to the Ministry of Legal Affairs so they are the ones who are talking with the receiver and Mr Rambarran and making all the necessary arrangements.”
When asked specifically whether the building belongs to the Government, the Minister said: “you’ll have to ask the Ministry of Legal Affairs. I don’t want to assume anything to you. I want you to go where the persons are dealing with the issue and get the information from them.”
Efforts to contact Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams proved futile.
But President Granger told reporters following the commission ceremony that the owner of the building was heavily indebted to the bank and the Government does not have a final cost at this time.
“This used to be a hotel and the person who built the hotel was heavily indebted to the banks and my understanding is that it’s in receivership. So in financial terms, we don’t have a final, a bottom line but the Minister of Public Health and the Minister of Finance are quite aware of the level of expenditure and cabinet is convinced that the expenditure is justified given the health situation,” Granger said.
The Centre is currently not functioning as it awaits the transfer of equipment and staff from the various COVID-19 isolation and quarantine facilities across Region Four.
“Equipment for this facility is going to cost probably three times that ($1.6B). Just imagine we’re in a pandemic, the equipment we need to equip this hospital, every country in the world is looking to buy it,” Minister Lawrence told the media.
Rehabilitation of the former Ocean View Hotel to make it into the current facility began after the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
Construction of the building cost $1.6B according to Permanent Secretary Colette Adams but this does not include the transfer of the previous building to the Government or the land.
The Government has not provided the details of the arrangement, how the location was selected or how the contracts were awarded for the project.
On April 30, an order was released stating that the Government of Guyana under ‘The Acquisition of Lands for Public Purpose Act’ took full ownership of the Ocean View Hotel. The order, signed by Minister of State Dawn Hastings Williams, is dated April 29.
The cost for the acquisition of the building or the 5.738 acres of land were not stated in the order.
In his address at the opening of the Centre, President Granger said the facility was “built with public funds to serve a public purpose.”
“The establishment of this infectious diseases’ hospital represents an essential and urgent investment in safeguarding our people’s health, not just against the coronavirus pandemic but also against future communicable epidemics,” the President added.
The incumbent President boasted of his Government’s response to the pandemic including the establishment of the National Coronavirus Task Force (NCTF) led by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and former Minister of State Joseph Harmon.
Granger said the Government has crafted a national response to the pandemic.
“This institution is an essential element of the emergency response…It will be used primarily for COVID-19 patients but, eventually, will become a fully-specialized communicable disease hospital,” he said.
Guyana confirmed its first COVID-19 case on March 11. To date, there have been 398 positive cases with 20 deaths and 185 recoveries.