Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan is washing his hands off the controversial Penal hospital contract, set to be given to Canadian conglomerate SNC-Lavalin, saying he had nothing to do with the choice of contractor or financial negotiations.He said the Prime Minister wanted a specialist hospital in Penal and it was his mandate to deliver that to her constituents.In a telephone interview yesterday, Khan added: "I don't know anything about that. All I know about it is that it is in the hands of Udecott (Urban Development Corporation of T&T) and SWRHA (Southwest Regional Health Authority)."He could not say on what basis SNC-Lavalin was chosen. Its subsidiary company, SNC-Lavalin Inc, is under a ten-year ban from the World Bank.Asked whether he felt comfortable that SNC-Lavalin was getting the contract to build the hospital, given its track record and questionable corporate practices, Khan said: "I have absolutely no comment on that."The Prime Minister wants a hospital. I promised she would get a hospital and that's where it ends with me."
The Penal hospital is being built at Clarke Road, Penal, in the constituency of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar under a government-to-government arrangement with Canada.Asked how government-to-government arrangements functioned, Khan said the Ministry of Health would decide on a project and then go to Cabinet with a note which indicated whether the project would be built using a commercial loan or a government-to-government arrangement.He said a recommendation was then made on which special-purpose company (Udecott, Nipdec or Sports Company of T&T) was best suited to oversee the project.He added: "The Ministry of Finance then decides if the country can afford the project. Once the Cabinet agrees to the project, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approaches the country to request a government-to-government loan with preferential interest rates."Their government will then get in touch with our foreign affairs (ministry) and we will develop a framework agreement between the two countries."If the host government accepts then the project is executed."
He said Health Ministry officials had been reviewing the hospital's user brief, which gave specifics of the layout and design."When someone is building a hospital we have to assess the design in terms of how many rooms and specialities will be present and what the layout will be. The basic structure of the hospital is being reviewed," Khan said.He said a meeting was held last week to discuss the layout and design.Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal promised to provide documentation on the hospital contract once the Canadian authorities cleared the air on it.SNC-Lavalin's corporate reputation went further downhill after former CEO Pierre Duhaime and another former top executive, Riadh Ben Aissa, were arrested on charges stemming from a contract for the multi-billion-dollar McGill University Health Centre.