Letters & Opinion

Our Right To Know – Part 4: Dis-informed?

By David Prescod

AS we return to the Technical Audit of St. Jude Hospital, we examine how the lack of government transparency has affected the quality of public information surrounding the execution of this project.

The issue of government accountability in this matter has long been subsumed by the scent of prosecutorial blood in the air, even while those who look forward to prosecution dare not provide a reason for their anticipation of it. In the absence of public availability of that Audit report, that anticipation of blood has served as a distraction and the public has been encouraged to believe many things which cannot be substantiated.

So that while the initial publicly-made charge levelled against the consultant and project manager by Minister Guy Joseph was that they were to be held accountable for the delay in completion of the project, (stlucianewsonline, November 5, 2016), the public had also been led by the Minister to believe that there were no plans for the buildings and so “as-build (sic)” drawings had to be prepared, (The VOICE, September 3, 2016). The leaked copy of the Technical Audit, however, refers to the availability of design drawings for the project at Section 2.8.5.

We’ve witnessed the hunt for missing containers of supplies only for those containers to be found hiding in plain sight precisely where they had been reportedly left by a previous administration, an administration of which Minister Joseph was a member. Only that when those containers were “found” by Minister Joseph, with police and customs services in tow, not only did the Minister not have authority to remove their contents, but the owner of the compound on which those containers were stored claimed that he had earlier written to the current government requesting payment for storing them, (The VOICE, November 12, 2016).

The latest update by Prime Minister Chastanet following his visit to the existing St. Jude makeshift facility only furthers the confusion. Not only does he repeat some of the public claims regarding the deficiencies of the new hospital, but he adds that “even when we have rooms that are supposed to have operations in it (sic), it was not designed to be able to put equipment in it” (stlucianewsonline, July 3). This is a significant finding, but we have not been able to find a reference to it in that leaked copy of the Technical Audit.

But that abovementioned online report also quotes the Prime Minister as saying “(can we) prioritize some of the things – dialysis, the emergency ward, the operation room? Can we move in there and get those things functioning and meanwhile get some of the other things rectified?”.

We say bravo! Finally it seems that a commonsense approach is being considered for completion of this facility. Only that this approach directly contradicts that leaked Audit Report which recommended termination of the contractors and foresaw a phased approach to the reconfiguration of the hospital at a cost of some EC$100 million. That Audit Report also cost the country EC$1 million.

With Minister Joseph having been at the forefront of the charge to terminate the consultant and then conduct this Technical Audit, (The VOICE, September 3, 2016); with Minister Joseph having given the assurance that the EC$1 million spent on the Audit would save the country EC$10 million, (The VOICE, November 5, 2016); with Minister Joseph first refusing to name the consultant engaged to conduct that Audit, (The VOICE, September 3, 2016), and now refusing to publish the Report (stlucianewsonline, January 13, 2017); with Minister Joseph saying he believed that a fair amount of the $95 million spent could not be accounted for (The VOICE, September 20, 2016); with Minister Joseph also indicating that major pronouncements were to be made and serious action taken, that an attorney had been retained and that everyone responsible and accountable will be brought to answer, (The VOICE, November 5, 2016); with Minister Joseph accepting that Audit report and forwarding it to the Attorney General’s office for advice further to which his Ministry would lead the charge to ensuring that implicated contractors and firms were held accountable, (stlucianewsonline, January 13, 2017); with all of the above, does our Prime Minister really believe that he can rely on Minister Joseph to implement the commonsense approach to completion of this hospital which the Prime Minister himself now seems to be suggesting?

Even if the Prime Minister were to retain the slightest shred of confidence in Minister Joseph, does he really think that the public has any confidence left in his Minister? Six months after having sent this Audit report to the Attorney General’s office for advice, what is this advice? Where are the promised prosecutions?

In my view, the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the St. Jude project represent an egregious abuse of institutional authority and we have had a trial via the media. Now, a first step to achieving transparency and accountability in government demands publication of the Technical Audit Report. A second step must be prosecution of those accountable for this abuse.

Next week, we look at the actions of both administrations at St. Jude.

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