“Dumping” specialty hospital was my biggest disappointment – Indian diplomat

Outgoing Indian High Commissioner Venkatachalam Mahalingam

…says such facility needed in Guyana

Outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, Venkatachalam Mahalingam, said he was disappointed that the Specialty Hospital Project, which had been marred in controversy since its initial stage, did not take off ground.

The US$18 million project, which was being funded by the India Export/Import (EXIM) Bank via a line of credit (LOC), was dropped in 2016 after the contracted company, Fedders Lloyd Corporation Limited – was handpicked by the coalition administration— was blacklisted by the World Bank until 2020 over fraud and corruption practices.

The Guyanese Government subsequently announced that the project was “dead”. This, according to High Commissioner Mahalingam, was his biggest disappointment.

Outgoing Indian High Commissioner Venkatachalam Mahalingam

“The revival of the specialty hospital would have been my biggest achievement and dumping the specialty hospital a second time was the biggest disappointment for me,” the Indian Diplomat said during an exclusive interview with Guyana Times.

The Special Hospital Project started under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration (PPP/C) and back in 2012, the contract was awarded to India-based Company, Surendra Engineering Corporation Limited. However, citing instances of alleged fraud and delays, the Donald Ramotar administration in 2014 announced that it had terminated the contract with the India-based company and subsequently filed a lawsuit against it for failing to honour its obligations.

Scrapped project

While in the Opposition, both the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC), before they collated, had opposed the US$18 million project and upon their assumption to office in 2015, decided to scrap the project, which had already expended some US$4 million on certain preliminary works. The coalition Government then approached India to divert the remaining $13.8 million towards improving the country’s primary healthcare service by upgrading three public hospitals across the country.

According to Mahalingam, he had assured the then new Government that both projects can be pursued.

“I told them that Government of Guyana can do both projects because both are required and they agreed. Then we went back to the original listing and we saw how we can do it. One of the bidders, who was willing to do the project, was identified… Then when we made the final decision about reviving the project and the contractor was awarded the contract for constructing the specialty hospital, that contractor was blacklisted by the World Bank. It was just on the last few days and that was really a disappointment for me and you can see till today the specialty hospital is not there,” he assured

Guyana needs a specialty hospital

However, the Indian diplomat noted that such a facility is much needed in Guyana, especially with the upcoming economic development the country is about to experience as a result of the oil boom when production commences early next year.

The PPP/C regime was hoping that the specialty hospital would be a catalyst in creating “health tourism” here in Guyana by pulling foreigners and overseas-based Guyanese to Guyana.

Asked whether his Government would be willing to still fund such a project should it be picked up in the future, the Indian diplomat responded in the affirmative but explained that it would have to be an entirely new project and not the continuation of the previous one.

Nevertheless, Mahalingam noted that he will not rule out this ever happening. In fact, he revealed that after the project was cancelled, some Indian investor had approached him about reviving the project but nothing ever materialised. Today, however, the Indian diplomat said he would encourage anyone interested to go ahead.

When asked, Mahalingam, who has concluded a five-year tenure in Guyana, told this newspaper that the specialty hospital project would’ve been his biggest achievement in Guyana had it been pursued.

“When I revived a kind of a dead project and then it was moving forward and was about to taken off (a second time), I thought that this is going to be an iconic structure that I would leave as a High Commissioner of India… I thought definitely this project will go through because it was going to be done in one and a half years, and I had more than that before I had to leave… It was my greatest disappointment also when the specialty hospital fell through…,” the Diplomat asserted.

Meanwhile, the Texila American University (TAU) in Guyana had announced back in 2017 that it was mulling constructing a specialty hospital at its Providence, East Bank Demerara complex. Guyana’s growing popularity as the destination of choice for overseas medical studies was a driving factor behind this consideration, the University had explained.

In fact, TAU President, Saju Bhaskar, had stated at the time that the institution was undertaking a market study for the planned project to examine the prospects of such a facility, which would cater for the provision of medical services such as neurology, urology and cancer treatments.