Letters & Opinion, Politics

St. Jude And The Art Of The Con — Part 3

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By David Prescod

WE know from parts one and two of this series that the Technical Audit of the St. Jude Hospital Project confirms that there “is great value present in the works completed to date”, and that by the Audit’s estimation there is at worst a 20% discrepancy between the percentage of works completed and budget spent.

In view of the above, how then has the public come to believe that the current status of this reconstruction project represents, as the Audit report itself describes it, “a mess of Herculean proportions”? And what has led the public to believe that it will cost almost as much to complete the new hospital as has already been spent? To understand this, we look backwards.

Following the September 2009 destruction by fire of the surgical wing of St. Jude, a document describing the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project was prepared under the auspices of the then Ministry of Finance, Economic Affairs and National Development, and issued in September 2010. That document described the proposed reconstruction of the burnt-out surgical wing, as well as renovation of the other two buildings comprising the hospital, as part of a first phase of the project. Construction of a new hospital in the vicinity of the George Odlum National Stadium would constitute the second phase of this project.

The 2011/2012 Budget Estimates of the then UWP administration indicate an estimated cost of reconstruction of the hospital of approximately EC$34 million, with expenditure of EC$7 million up to March 31, 2011. The Technical Audit indicates that construction contracts in the amount of EC$35 million had been awarded by the end of 2011, roughly coinciding with the Budget Estimate of the project cost at that time.

The SLP won the general election of November 2011, and the Budget Estimates of 2012/2013 indicate a projected cost of EC$46 million, but also indicate a sum of EC$595,000 for construction of a “New Specialist Hospital – Vieux Fort”; these sums increased to EC$59 million and EC$609,000 respectively in the Budget of 2013/2014. In the budget year 2014/2015, however, only a single item for the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project appears, but now in the amount of EC$118 million.

The changing costs of the project were duly reported by former Prime Minister Anthony in his budget speeches, and in his address of 2013 following his first full year of administration, he indicated that the project was then estimated to cost EC$115 million, and that “For all practical purposes, the St. Jude Hospital will be a totally new facility”. The former Prime Minister also indicated in that address that the Government, at that time, faced fiscal challenges that made financing of the reconstruction difficult. By October 2014, however, the SLP administration had, with parliamentary approval, obtained a loan for this project in the amount of US$20 million from the Government of Taiwan.

What we find then, from the parliamentary record, is that the project changed from reconstruction of the hospital’s surgical wing and renovation of two buildings, first estimated by a UWP administration to cost $34 million, to construction of a practically new hospital costing $115 million somewhere in the 2013/2014 budget cycle. That estimate then increased to $118 million in 2014/2015 and to $137 million in the 2016/2017 Estimates.

The Minister for Economic Development, Guy Joseph, was a Member of Parliament of the UWP administration of 2006-2011 and remained a Member of Parliament when the SLP administration assumed office in 2011. He debated every budget between March 2011 and June 6, 2016 when the UWP reassumed office and, therefore, must have knowledge of the evolution of this hospital project, its increased cost, and the financial constraints which its redevelopment faced. The record in the print media during that period, however, is of Minister Joseph being concerned with the cost of the Bois d’Orange Bridge, having a loud debate in the House on the details of a construction contract, and bringing lawsuits against the Constituencies Boundaries Commission.

Yet within 10 days of the new Cabinet being sworn in on June 14, 2016, the Minister is reported in a stlucianewsonline article of June 24, 2016 as calling for the Project Coordinator and the Consultants to the project to be held accountable for failing to deliver the project. Within 10 days of that call, the contract of the design and supervision Consultant to the project, Halcrow Group Ltd, was terminated.

The termination of this consultant requires our attention, and that of our Courts, as notwithstanding the very serious allegations contained in the leaked Technical Audit, that document does not provide reason to conclude that the works executed do not represent value for the money spent, or that the buildings are not fit for the purpose intended. Even the stated consultant’s fee for the services provided is well within the acceptable percentage of the cost of the works.

We examine that termination next week.

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