CAN a government keep secret a deal in which public financing is involved?
This question was asked of Labour Party’s leader Philip J Pierre at a press conference last week and whether he knew of a private entity contracted to manage the Owen King European Union Hospital.
Pierre said he was not aware of that also stating “I would like to believe that is not true.” Efforts to ascertain the veracity of that were futile despite several phone calls to various units of the Ministry of Health. The VOICE, however, learned that something is afoot as it relates to the hospital.
Pierre meanwhile noted that should the people of Saint Lucia elect the Labour Party in the next general elections his government would immediately look into the matter.
“There has been absolutely no word about this in the public,” Pierre said, going on to ask whether there was a tendering process, how the firm was chosen, how much the firm was being paid, what the terms of the contract with the firm stipulated, etc.
Pierre felt that those and other questions should be asked particularly because the hospital was built with grants from the European Union.
However, not everyone is averse to a private entity managing the hospital. A former Ministry of Health official pointed to the St. Jude Hospital experience when it was run by Mercy Hospital of the United States. This was a private management contract which worked for the hospital and the region it served.
“It depends on what authority you give the private entity, what controls you have in place to make sure whoever you are hiring does what you want. This (hospital) is a public institution. The public needs access and yes, the hospital needs to be run professionally. The agreement with a private entity to manage the hospital cannot be a sell-out to a private company for some sort of economic agenda that counters the health agenda,” the former public health officer said.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, at the same press conference took the government to task claiming that through its actions and for nearly three years it deliberately caused patients, medical staff and other professional staff of the St. Jude Hospital to endure additional, avoidable suffering and frustration. Representatives said that the government had over that time made confusing pronouncements and taken regressive actions like stopping work at the hospital site and threatening to demolish the hospital buildings. They also brought into focus the Prime Minister’s suggestions that the hospital will go to a private firm, that process of potentially harmful roofing material being removed without adequate safety measures and used containers retrofitted for use by staff.
Moses Jn Baptiste, the parliamentary representative for Vieux Fort North said that unannounced activities at the St. Jude Hospital site suggest that patients and staff at the George Odlum Stadium will endure an even longer period of pain and suffering.
“The Saint Lucia Labour Party interprets the government’s actions as careless and without due regard to the people who are suffering most. The Party remains adamant that the government should complete and use the original buildings which were used for years as a hospital,” Jn Baptiste said.
He added that the most recent actions of government suggest that it is not interested in completing the St. Jude hospital. Additionally, according to the parliamentary representative, there have been no announcements on the use of the original St. Jude buildings and there has been no declaration by the government on the immediate actions which need to be taken to safeguard the patients and staff at the George Odlum Stadium.
“All of that is happening while conditions at the Soufriere Hospital and the confusion relating to the La Ressource, Richfond and Anse La Raye Health Centres continue to affect the delivery of quality health care to our people. The answers to the reported privatization arrangements for the Owen King EU have all been arrogantly ignored by the government even as both medical professionals and the members of the public continue to plead for this government to provide answers,” Jn Baptiste said.