Government has come in for criticism for bypassing the public tendering process in its selection of Indian company Fedders Lloyd to resume construction of the controversial specialty hospital.
“Bottom line is it should go back to tender,” President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) Calvin Bernard told Stabroek News yesterday.
Citing time constraints as a main reason for its choice, government on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Fedders Lloyd to restart the construction of the hospital, using the remainder of a US$18M line of credit that had been granted by the government of India for the project.
Stabroek News understands that the remaining sum totals US$13.6M.
“In the interest of time, Government approached Fedders Lloyd – one of the original bidders – to explore the possibility of them completing the project. Fedders Lloyd expressed continued interest and was prepared to complete and fully equip the facility,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
The signing of the MoU was also done without the media being invited despite the fact that while in opposition both APNU and the AFC, which now comprise the government, had complained about the absence of transparency in government deals, such as for the specialty hospital.
There was no public tendering for the revived project. In addition, Fedders Lloyd had been represented during the earlier bidding process for the hospital by now Vice-President and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan.
Bernard yesterday said the signing of the MoU raised a number of “red flags” and he said that, in the interest of transparency, the government should give a detailed explanation of its choice to move ahead with the agreement and the project should be re-tendered. He also said that the claim that time was the overriding factor for government’s seemingly hasty decision could not be justified. “Looking at the situation, there are things that raise flags… you have to remember that this is the very project that this government opposed some elements of when they were in opposition. Now that we are seeing this rapid move to have the project implemented and time being used for the circumventing of the tender process is reason for many questions to be asked and them to answer,” Bernard said.
“Why is there a time constraint now? This project has been on hold for some time. Are you telling me that a few more months would kill us? I don’t believe so. No one believes so,” he added.
Bernard said too that he believes that the fact that Ramjattan once served as the representative for Fedders Lloyd when it had objected to its loss of the contract back in 2012 also necessitated a more transparent handling of the project.
“You had one member of government who served as representative for the said company… it does raise suspicion and what will people think? It is easier to prove than disprove that he had some influence in the decision going the way it did,” he said.
“Under those circumstances they should have been more circumspect and moved towards a tender process… there is no excuse why there is not,” he also said.
The TIGI President posited that the populace is already agitated and bothered by government’s recent decision to hike ministerial salaries and he charged that the MoU signing signalled “strike two.”
“We had one very bad experience with the salary increase, where they said we will review it and so forth then we heard the increase was given. To say now, ‘we see again, we will see and…’ will not hold because we are going to ask if it is not possible that the same thing will be done, a contract will be signed. How will we trust you? This seems like if a contract is given, then strike two,” he said.
Fedders Lloyd had been vocal in its opposition to the award of the original contract to fellow Indian company Surendra Engineering. Fedders Lloyd had argued that it was better qualified than Surendra and it also challenged the fairness of the process by which the latter company was chosen.
The PPP/C government later ended up suing Surendra last year over fraud and other matters and the project stalled. After its election in May this year, the APNU+AFC government signalled that it was not interested in the project and instead wanted the remaining money to be channeled to upgrade primary health care facilities.
The government statement had said that it requested the EXIM Bank of India to cancel the LOC for the specialty hospital and to reapportion the balance of funds to a project to modernise three primary healthcare facilities here.
It added that India’s government, in its response, while signalling its no objection and support for the primary healthcare facilities, suggested that the Guyana government should consider salvaging the specialty hospital to complement the primary healthcare facilities.