Some future historian of Mauritius will perhaps wonder how ever a simple building came to dominate almost two decades of Mauritian life.
Medpoint Hospital, as it was called, had barely become operational when its owner-director, Dr Malhotra, was attacked by acid being thrown at his face for reasons that have remained unclear to this day.
Following from the time of the incident onwards, Medpoint Hospital (to be referred to as Medpoint), never seemed to have really taken off. In fact, it reached a stage before the general election of 2010 when the news was out in public that it was facing financial difficulties, and that the issue of selling it was being considered.
At about that time too – at least as far as was known in public — the idea of setting up a National Geriatric Hospital was increasingly heard. Subsequently it became known, when ICAC came into the picture after the MSM walked away following the arrest of then Minister of Health and Quality of Life, Mrs Maya Hanoomanjee, that, in fact, a technical committee at the same Ministry had examined the issue and concluded that geriatric services should be decentralized to the existing regional hospitals rather than being centralized at a National Geriatric Hospital.
As a matter of fact, on 18 February 2011, this column wrote: ‘… it seems that there is a convergence of opinion on the part of the public and medical practitioners who are not in the Public Service to the effect that a centralized geriatric facility will not best serve the needs of this segment of the population, thus supporting the position of the medical consultants who obviously reached their conclusions and made their recommendations on professional and scientific grounds.’
The column had also noted that, ‘In the continuing saga of the Medpoint Clinic, the Leader of the Opposition has commented in a press conference that the advice of medical consultants was not taken into consideration, reason enough for him that the incumbent Minister of Health should resign, or at least step down until the ICAC enquiry is on.’ Of course, as is known, she didn’t do so, and instead was arrested by ICAC and admitted at Apollo-Bramwell Hospital before the subsequent walkout of MSM from the Alliance with the Labour Party.
Who knows that, if the technical advice had been followed, today the Mauritian public would not have had to be exposed to the dark and dirty underbelly of the ‘Medpoint scandal’, a qualification that was tagged to it at the peak of the crisis.
Medpoint, a bête noire associated with controversy from the word go, has been more about politics than about medicine, when we come to think of it. It was there that a deal was brokered between the MSM and the MMM, and its long shadow has once again darkened the local sky with the verdict of guilt pronounced on 30th June 2015 by the Intermediate Court against the Vice Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth for his “conflicting” involvement in his capacity as Minister of Finance when the sale of Medpoint took place in December 2010.
Controversy was the hallmark of the Medpoint scandal, as despite the ICAC enquiry, many questions which the public sought clarifications about, were never answered. Isn’t it important for citizens to know about how government functions – isn’t governance dominating the political agenda currently? For example, there was the issue of the presence of Mr Sunil Dwarkasing at a meeting that was held under the chairmanship of the Minister of Health and Quality of Life, Mrs Maya Hanoomanjee. Was he there or not? He categorically and publicly denied that he attended that meeting, yet others had advanced that he did attend in his capacity as Adviser at the Ministry of Finance.
If, contrary to his denial, he was actually present in the meeting, the question is to understand what precisely he had to convey over there in the name of MOFED. What exactly was discussed at that meeting? Were notes of meeting taken and circulated, verified, amended to reflect exactly what went on there?
Perhaps someday if ICAC documents become declassified this may come to the surface. Until then, as has been the case all the while, the dark zones will remain.
However, the irony is that despite being more of a sore point for the country, Medpoint has been a failure on several points and it looks as if it will continue to be a sore point on the Mauritian landscape for a while. The least we can say is that Mauritius, Mauritians and the taxpayers’ money could well have been spared this costly playout of events over a long stretch of time.
* Published in print edition on 3 July 2015