SENIOR public servants, for the very first time, are being called on to give an account of their stewardship in the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project, an approach that could very well shift the focus from the politicians.
Urban Renewal, Economic Development, Housing, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister, Guy Joseph, is making the call for the public servants with oversight of the project to speak up. He said the questions that are being asked of him should also be asked of them.
“A lot of people in government circles are very uncomfortable with this project or with reporting anything in relation to the project. For some reason, because I have been the most vocal person on the whole St. Jude matter, everyone wants to make it look like St. Jude is pinned on Guy Joseph. I need to make this clear: because people are uncomfortable about St. Jude does not mean that I will keep quiet,” Joseph said.
The Minister cited the senior civil servants in question when he spoke of a report on the hospital project that made reference to permanent secretaries.
Although he did not identify the report, it was clear he was speaking of the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project Handover Report that is now in government’s possession. That report was prepared by Shanta King for the period ending August 14, 2016. She was the project manager at the time. King, in that report, said the government agency responsible for the planning and implementation of the hospital project was the Department of Economic Development.
She also stated that a Project Management Unit was set up in February 2010 to facilitate the planning and implementation of the project, oversee the implementation of the works and services to be contracted under the project, and prepare progress reports for the Government of St. Lucia on the status of the implementation.
Further to that, King noted that a project steering committee was set up to guide and oversee the implementation of the project and comprised permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries, members of the Board of St. Jude, people employed at the Ministry of Health, Office of the Budget and Department of Economic Development.
She noted that the Office of the Accountant General and the Department of Planning provided day-to-day accounting services for the processing of all payments while the Project Management Unit maintained the financial records.
“When we look at what has happened with St. Jude, the report highlights all the permanent secretaries and the most senior persons by name (who were) responsible for the oversight of St. Jude. Where are those people to answer the questions? A lot of them still work with the government? Are the media going to them? Are you putting the mikes in their faces like you are putting it in the faces of politicians and ministers when you see them,” asked Joseph.
He added: “Why are we not demanding answers from these people for all the questions that are looming? There should be someone at the Ministry who could tell us when the report was handed over. I cannot find a lot of information about St. Jude. The Handover Report says that accounts were kept. I have said we cannot find one piece of accounting document on St. Jude,” Joseph explained.
Joseph said he cannot instruct public servants to do what they do not want to do because if he does that, they will claim he is interfering and write to the trade union stating just that.
“Then you will hear the Public Service Commission getting involved. I know where these people stand. I know where the Public Service Commission stands on this matter. So, at the end of the day, the reality that we are faced with is that people would much rather know that what happened at St. Jude is buried and that nothing comes to light, so that nobody would have questions to answer,” Joseph said.
According to the Minister, the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project was run through two private emails which required court action to get access to.
“When we wrote to the consultant on the project for information, he refused to cooperate and give us information. We had to write to Halcrow headquarters to indicate that we were not getting the co-operation and the information that was required,” Joseph said.