Saint Lucia’s two major political factions continue to make ‘heavy weather’ over an infrastructural issue of national importance – renovation works at the St Jude Hospital site.
And 13 years, after fire destroyed the southern medical facility, the tense situation unfolding at the work site has not dissipated , while members of the public and other concerned citizens hope that the millions of dollars being spent to complete this long-standing renovation works does not also ‘go up in smoke’.
In March this year, Prime Minister Phillip J. Pierre had indicated that the authorities were keen on resuming renovation works on the original hospital building, after an independent committee had reported ‘startling revelations’ about the status of works and the financial management at the work site.
This week Pierre disclosed that construction works at the St Jude Hospital site will recommence this November.
Reports indicate that the abandonment of works at the original St Jude Hospital construction site, which was estimated at about 80% complete ended costing the government in excess of $115 million of ‘expendable’ public funds.
In addition, official sources revealed that, “A Technical Audit undertaken in 2016/17 determined the original St. Jude Hospital site was nearly 80% completed. At the time, an estimated EC$ 26 million dollars was required to bring the East [Medical] Wing to a state of completion.
It was also reported that operations at the George Odlum National Stadium could have been transferred to the East Wing within 12 months.
According to the government statement, this meant that “the people who depend on St. Jude Hospital for medical care and the hardworking medical staff providing these essential services could have been doing so today in more suitable facilities.”
Consequently, the Pierre Administration has taken “decisive measures to provide immediate relief to the patients and St. Jude Hospital staff operating out of the Stadium and has announced external works on the original construction site will resume in November.”
In highlighting the process for renovation works at the hospital site, the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration listed the following issues as ‘Promise (s) Kept’ to the electorate, as thus:
– A Technical Architectural Proposal commissioned by the Chastanet-led administration concluded that by 2016, the original buildings were 80% completed.
– External works are scheduled to commence in November 2022.
– Remedial works on original construction site are scheduled to commence in 2023
– $1.5 million allocated to remedial works at hospital currently housed at the George Odlum National Stadium.
While citizens from the south and the country generally, await this long –overdue progress report on the rebuilding works at the St Jude Hospital compound, PM Pierre has assured that the “committee’s report” will be made public , as soon as the group submits the document.
Meanwhile, the main opposition – United Workers Party (UWP) convened a press briefing, Thursday, where the UWP Deputy Chairperson Fortuna Belrose took the government to task over the authorities preferred method in dealing with construction issues at the work site.
Belrose said the UWP expresses “disappointment and disgust” over what is happening at the St Jude Hospital construction site , whereby the current administration has decided to cancel the plan conceptualized by the former regime that included the construction of a new building in 2019.
Rather, the government has stated that the latter project bore ‘exorbitant costs’ to the coffers of the country and if continued, this ‘so-called’ new project would prove detrimental to tax payers and citizens, generally.
However, the UWP is not holding back and have launched an all-out attack on the government’s financial management and operations policy to continue construction works at the site.
“St Jude’s (Hospital) has been reduced to a football (political), which has been kicked about by everybody …and so, for us as a country and as a political party, we continue to be disappointed in the leadership of the prime minister,” Belrose told reporters.
The former UWP senator described the situation as “glaring …and more of a personal vendetta” as opposed to looking after the interests of the people and “an institution that has served us so well, in respect to health”.
Belrose declared: “It cannot be that in 2022, we are building a facility …within a facility that’s over 60 to 70 years old. That is not right.”
The UWP official argues that in juxtaposition to the current works being undertaken by the authorities and in contrast to the project that had been laid down by the former regime “the state-of-the-art facility that is there to be enhanced and completed or finished … it is like ‘chalk and cheese’.”
She added, “If you’re looking (to) the future, clearly …the Labour Party is making a grave mistake.”
Belrose noted that in the interest of the staffers and patients at the medical facility, a line has to be drawn regarding the extent or magnitude of works in progress. She contends that the project undertaken by the former regime was earmarked for longevity, while the government continues to play ‘political football’ with this highly delicate national issue.
“Eventually they will find themselves utilizing that facility …and they will not be maximizing the benefits of what they could have derived from it,” she said, on the government’s preferred option with construction works at the site. “It is a sad place to be, it’s a waste of tax payers’ money over the years, and I feel that every citizen should be disgusted by this …and it’s a debate that will continue for a very long time.”