Who built UGMC? Here are the facts

On June 14, 2024, Former President John Mahama touted the infrastructure projects completed under his tenure. John Mahama, who is the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress, went on to highlight some of his achievements in infrastructure development as President.

“My track record in infrastructure development is well acknowledged. We shall provide more. It is a track record that built the Ghana National Gas Company and many power plants to fix dumsor. It is a solid track record of building ultramodern hospitals such as the UGMC… and several others across the country,” he said.

The Former President’s comment has generated heated debate on X about when the construction of the University of Ghana Medical Centre (UGMC) began.

Whereas others praised John Mahama for putting up the hospital, others, including the chief of staff of the late President Prof John Evans Atta Mills, Koku Anyidoho, claimed Mr Mahama could not “beat his chest and say he built UGMC” because the late Prof Mills cut sod for the project.

In this article, Fact-Check Ghana recounts how the construction of UGMC began.

In 2018, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof Ernest Aryeetey, disclosed that for more than five decades, the university had planned to build an ultramodern hospital on its campus.

The hospital was to help the university move its College of Health Sciences and most of its operations from the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital to its premises. This, Prof Aryeetey said in an interview, was to make sure individuals in the health sciences interacted with other parts of the university as they were remote from the main campus.

However, due to inadequate resources, the construction of the project stalled.

During his tenure as Vice-Chancellor, Prof Aryeetey said the university approached the late President Mills about their intention to bring the idea of a hospital into reality.

According to Prof Aryeetey, the late President, who had taught at the university for more than two decades, was keen on the idea and pledged to support it.

He said Prof Mills even “defied opposition” from individuals in his government to ensure the idea came to fruition.

As a result, the University of Ghana, through the Government of Ghana, secured a US$217 million loan facility from the Israeli Government to construct a 650-bed teaching hospital.

This culminated in a brief sod-cutting by Prof Mills for the project’s construction now known as UGMC on Saturday, March 12, 2011.

On that day, the late President assured authorities at the University of Ghana that his government would complete the project.

“As a government, we’ll give you the fullest support. My doors are always open, we’ll make sure to provide the resources and make the necessary contacts,” he said.

Unfortunately, Prof Mills died in July 2012. John Mahama succeeded him as he was the Vice President.

At another sod-cutting ceremony organised by the University of Ghana on November 24, 2012, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof Ernest Aryeetey, said when completed, the facility would serve Ghanaians, and West Africans, and aid medical studies at the university.

“It will also provide additional opportunity for inter-disciplinary research and teaching which ultimately enhance the quality of facilities available for modern medical and health science education,” he said.

The Deputy Minister of Health at the time, Rojo Mettle Nunoo, among other things, also said at the event that “plans are underway to replicate this at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and indeed in the other Medical Public Universities that train health professionals in the country.”

According to UGMC’s website, the construction of the Centre began in 2013. The first phase of the project was commissioned by Former President Mahama on January 4, 2017, three days before he left office, and was scheduled to open in November of that year. The Former President hoped the incoming government would honour the Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the government that indicated that the state would run the facility for the first five years before allowing it to be self-financed and managed by the university.

However, the Centre was kept under lock and key for months. This was due to a misunderstanding between the new NPP government that took over power and the University of Ghana over who manages the UGMC.

On February 1, 2018, the then Deputy Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, said the government had almost resolved the tussle over the management of the Centre with the university.

“That standoff [between the University of Ghana and the Ministry of Health], as I speak to you, is being resolved. Between the University and the Health Ministry, they have come to an agreement on a new management approach.”

He added that “before the end of this week, there will be an announcement on the way forward.”

This deadline was missed.

At the height of the impasse between the government and the University of Ghana, Prof Ernest Aryeetey entreated the government to respect an MOU between the two parties which indicated that UGMC must be managed by the University.

He claimed at the time that the misunderstanding between the management of the hospital was due to the selfish private interest of some individuals.

“It was understood by the government at the time that the Teaching Hospital was a facility owned by the University of Ghana and it was stated clearly in the MoU signed.

“In terms of ownership, it was made clear that the University of Ghana will own the Hospital. Government had to help put it up,” Prof Aryeetey said.

A groundswell against the government’s inability to reach a decision with the University’s management led to persistent protests for the Centre to be opened.

A pharmacy student at the University of Ghana, Reginald Sekyi-Brown, who had been protesting for the immediate opening of the Centre was arrested and detained by the Korle Bu police in May 2018. Reginald was arrested for holding a placard with the inscription “Open UGMC now” at a sod-cutting ceremony for the construction of a paediatric unit by the First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo.

Pressure from the public led to the partial opening of the Centre in 2018.

Later that year, Parliament’s Health Committee, in a report, recommended to the House to approve a €40,500,000 facility for the government to complete the second phase of the project.

According to the report, the UGMC project was approved by the cabinet in 2012.

“The University of Ghana Medical Centre project received a cabinet approval in 2012. The commercial contract for the project was signed on behalf of the Government of Ghana between the Ministry of Health and Messrs the Engineering, Development and Consultants Limited of Israel,” the report stated.

Thus, the report from Parliament’s Health Committee confirmed that indeed the construction of the UGMC commenced in 2012.

The cost of the second phase of the project was to be paid by the University, according to a former Minister of Health under the Mahama administration, Alex Segbefia. The University of Ghana, he said, was going to be responsible for the management of the Centre after five years.

“The whole idea of this project was that there was a phase 2, which at the time, was going to cost us $48 million. That was a loan that had to be guaranteed by the University of Ghana. By so doing, it meant that when the loan is taken out, the University of Ghana would be responsible for making the payments on the $50 million, not the $217 million.

“That is why it was important that they had management control. The whole hospital’s running costs was going to be dealt with by government for only five years. After that the running costs plus the $50 million had to be paid for by the running of the hospital,” he said on Citi FM’s Eyewitness News.

The incumbent government, however, disagreed. The Minister of Health at the time, Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, insisted that since the initial phase was funded by the government, the Centre should be controlled by same.

Nonetheless, the government continued with the construction of the project’s second phase in 2019 after Parliamentary approval in 2018. That phase was completed in December 2021.

On 24th December 2021, the Project Management Team (PMT) of the Ministry of Health handed over the Centre to UGMC’s management at a brief ceremony held at the premises of the Centre. Full operationalisation of the ultramodern facility began in March 2022.

It is evident from the above that the idea of UGMC was conceived by the University of Ghana decades ago. The late President Mills bought into the concept, cut-sod and commenced its construction. When he became President after the death of President Mills, John Mahama ensured that the first phase of the project was completed. The current government also followed through to make sure the second phase of the project was done.

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