Auditor General Deodat Sharma has completed the audit into the controversial rehabilitation of the Ocean View Hotel to act as a COVID-19 facility and has revealed that the report will be submitted to Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony in a matter of days.
The audit commenced last week, according to Minister Anthony, and came after it was revealed that some $1.6 billion was spent by the former Government to refurbish the facility which is a skeleton of what it should be.
“From the financial and audit perspective, the Auditor General sent a team to Ocean View and they spent an entire day there trying to see what is going on. All the documents that the Auditor General has requested that has been given to him so that they will be able to do a proper report and present to us so that we can decide the way forward so.
“If these sums of money we’re told were spent on the building, then the Guyanese public deserves to know what it was actually spent on. $1.6 billion is a lot of money and therefore people deserve to know and the only way we can know that is to have the Auditor General and his team do that type of audit and present those results to us,” Minister Anthony said during his appearance on the programme “Government in Focus”.
Back in April, AG Sharma had said that from the available reports, the arrangement may not have gone through the required process. The Auditor General had noted that in light of the coronavirus and the exceptional political circumstances, separate accounts for expenditures incurred are expected to be kept.
The former Granger Government embarked on transforming the flood-prone building into a facility to house COVID-19 patients amidst much criticisms, especially since the Government was in caretaker mode. In fact, the details surrounding the deal were kept secret from the public. It has been revealed that over $1.6 billion was spent just to renovate the building.
In fact, the former Director General under the APNU/AFC coalition, Joseph Harmon, had stated that the Government had acquired the Ocean View Hotel property through a compulsory order.
“This notice is made pursuant to paragraph (2)(a) of the Direction by the President under the Public Health Ordinance. Cap 145, and published on the Gazette, Legal Supplement- B, 16th March 2020,” the Order stated.
Further, Harmon was reported as saying that the facility would be set up for the long term.
The facility was officially commissioned on July 30 by caretaker President Granger – two days before an election declaration was made and Dr Irfaan Ali of the PPP/C was sworn in as Guyana’s ninth Executive President. But even at the time of its commissioning, the hospital was nonfunctional. At the commissioning, Granger said that the facility was in receivership.
However, after taking the reins on Government, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) described the Infectious Disease Hospital as a total disaster, since much work still needs to be done to the facility before it commences operating, or starts taking in patients.
While the new hospital was expected to relieve the burden of other public health facilities in the country, Dr Anthony pointed out that the facility was commissioned as a “shell”, without any structure in place.
Currently, there are neither medical equipment nor furniture in the building, nor has staff been assigned. Guyana Times was previously told that the Public Health Ministry was transferring medical equipment from other smaller health facilities that were established to treat COVID-19 positive cases.
According to the new Health Minister, at a minimum, about 20 doctors are needed for the facility, along with technicians and other staff.
Medical technical team
Minister Anthony, after discovering the dire situation at the facility, assembled a medical technical team to go in and determine what is necessary to get the hospital up and running.
The team discovered that in the designated Intensive Care Unit at the Ocean View facility; the oxygen and suction tubes were not properly installed. In addition, the ventilators procured for the facility are not capable of operating for more than 4 hours.
“For the ICU area, we will need to ensure that there is oxygen and suction…generally when you are making a hospital those tubes are placed in the wall. This facility was rehabilitated and they had the opportunity of placing those things in the wall because that also reduces transmission and infection spread but that was not done,” Dr Anthony related.
He added that if the PPP/C Government decides to use the facility then another phase of refurbishment would have to commence to bring it up to standard, which ultimately places an additional burden on the already depleted treasury.
“In addition, they have a section that has to do with dialysis. If you are going to provide dialysis to patients you would need filtered water and no provision was made for dialysis. The space is a shell. There are no beds, equipment and you can’t have a hospital if you don’t have the necessary equipment to treat the patients that would come there. The ventilators bought for the hospital there cannot run continuously for 24 hours. These are for ambulances and only for short periods like 2-3 hours. You just have to wonder how such blunders were made,” the Minister stated.
The Auditor General’s 2017 report had found that drugs were being stored on the Ministry’s behalf in seven rooms of the same hotel, which was said to be termite-infested at the time. Among the issues the Auditor General had raised was the lack of a formal written agreement between the Administration and the private owners.
Referencing that, Minister Anthony said he is hopeful that those issues were resolved during the rehabilitation process. He also expressed concerns over the decision to use that specific facility since the area is severely flood-prone.
Back in 2008, the ownership of the Ocean View Hotel had passed to local businessman Jacob Rambarran. In the run-up to the 2015 elections, Rambarran had endorsed the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) coalition. However, a few days ago, one Wilfred Rambarran contended that he is the owner of the property and demanded millions of dollars in rent.
The letter, dated August 6, was sent to Attorney General Anil Nandlall and the Health Minister by Rambarran’s Attorney R Satram of the Chambers of Satram and Satram.
Rambarran, who is a known APNU/AFC associate, claims that though the previous Government issued a Notice of Compulsory Acquisition for the former Ocean View Hotel, he believes it is of no effect because compensation has not been discussed or paid. The Granger-led caretaker Administration had initially agreed to pay some $13 million per month to use the facility for a period of 12 months, but then later issued a Notice of Compulsory Acquisition of the hotel.
Rambarran is claiming that the then Government never engaged in negotiations to purchase the hotel. Moreover, compensation has not been paid or assessed. This proprietor has informed the new Government that his property is valued at more than $2 billion, and he is demanding payment of all arrears of rent due in 14 days. (G2)