Letters & Opinion

The Soufriere Square three Years Later… Oh What a Tangled Web!

By Stephen Lester Prescott

I’ve listened with utter amazement at the comments of Government supporters, the Representative of Soufriere/Fond St Jacques and the Prime Minister who lauded the efforts of the UWP Administration for completing the Soufriere Square. I heard with utter shock the MP for Soufriere indicate that Saint Lucia had expended 1.5 million dollars in three months during the Labour Administration on undertaking the works and basically the incoming UWP Administration had little to no money left to complete the square. Hence, the PM had no choice at the time but to halt works.

Ironically, it was in February 2018 that this same elected representative for Soufriere/Fond St Jacques announced plans for the recommencement of the Soufriere Square Project. In his own words, the Minister noted then: “the square will be incorporating within the design, the history, culture and narratives of Soufriere. The redesign of the Soufriere Town Square forms part of the wider re-generation and re-development of the Soufriere town, with the square acting as a main feature within this wider redevelopment.” So in effect, the Square was halted because according to him, it didn’t reflect the culture of Soufriere… hmmm! It’s boggling to the mind that the Minister would say that, because after a cursory comparison of the before 2016 and the 2019 aerial photos of the Square, my lay eyes realized that there is absolutely no aesthetic differences, no design difference, even the seats are in the same place… not even a Guillotine was added. Senator Fortuna Belrose went so far in 2017 to state that the Soufriere Square would become the Garden of Eden of the Caribbean with the new designs.

Yet, I could not distinguish the difference between the designs offered by Interisland Architects and this Government’s final product. During the French Revolution, a guillotine was placed in the town’s square to evoke fear into the inhabitants of the time so I was expecting a new guillotine, and perhaps even some bronze chained slaves to appease the dictatorial attitude of some in power. So where is the new inspiration that caused the stoppage of works for over three years?

This project, as my information goes, was conceptualized sometime in 2013. Community consultations were held thereafter where the various design options were displayed and feedback obtained from the community residents. The community was informed that the redevelopment of the Soufriere Square would create a new and modern outdoor urban space experience through reconfiguring the existing area with enhanced seating, lighting and safety and attractive features. The use of local stone would be incorporated throughout the park; aesthetic features such as a fountain that can be interacted with by children, was introduced, in keeping with the town’s theme as a coastal centre and a place for bathing. The square would also be provided with two new sculptures for artistic interpretation of the square’s historic tribute to Amerindian and European occupation of the region.

The contract for commencement of these works was signed in 2014, and during the construction period approximately thirty five persons were employed in construction and landscaping works related to this project. When the Government changed in June 2016, the works at the Square were 64 to 70% complete, and about $2,653,242 was assigned for undertaking this project. This project was generously funded by the Taiwanese Government. The only amount drawn down on the contract at the time of the change of government was $291,000. At the point of termination of the contract the total amount paid to the original contractors at settlement was approximately $1.4 million (inclusive of the original payment of $291,000). Therefore a balance of approximately $1.2 million was left from the original Taiwanese grant. What then can the Minister and his Prime Minister be talking about when they say there was no money left to complete the project? I defy the government to present figures to contradict the information presented here. Final settlement was in May 2017. Do the Maths readers: 64 -70% of $2,653,242. The works were suspended in July 2016 when the Prime Minister gave verbal instructions in the presence of technocrats, Taiwanese representatives and members of the media that all works had to stop because he wasn’t happy with what he saw.

The Government then went into total hibernation after that grand announcement and the project languished for years, they subsequently terminated the contract with Interisland in October 2016. The Government promised recommencement of the Square in 2017 but to no avail. In December 2017, demolition of the existing work previously undertaken through the InterIsland Architects contract started for the new construction as per the so-called re-design ideas….yet for more than a year after no major works happened. In the process over one million dollars went to waste.

St Lucia is that ethical that a Government can just throw Donor tax money out the window with no accountability? Like children playing with toys, breaking down works costing the state close to millions of dollars. Bring into focus also, the Southern Administrative Center and St Jude Hospital where tens of millions of dollars have been sent down the drain through the thoughtless policy of this government. And let’s not even discuss the cost of the legal implications of the breached contracts by this Government to InterIsland and others. Does anyone in the public know how much the government had to settle all claims from the previous design and build contract?

According to the argument of the Allen Chastanet Administration, the project was terminated because of a new policy direction of government; it had to be redesigned according to culture and arts heritage of Soufriere. But what exactly does that mean to a Prime Minister who believes that “our heritage is our credit rating.” They then give us a final product that seems no different from the first designs. It would be good if the Government through the MP could indicate how his new designs incorporate the culture, tradition, arts of Soufriere and more significantly how different is it from the initial design?

hope that someone in the Administration will have the decency to come clean with the citizens of this country and provide truthful answers.

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