Letters & Opinion

St. Jude and the Art of the Con – Part 18: While You Were Away

David Prescod
By David Prescod, Engineer & Project Manager — former CEO of WASCO

WHEN questioned on the need for his frequent travels Prime Minister Chastanet has defended them, indicating as well that he had confidence that his Cabinet could manage the affairs of State when he was away. That may be so, but it is also possible for a Prime Minister to be “away” even while seemingly present, and this may be the circumstance today.

When, at his October 5, 2017 press conference, Prime Minister Chastanet indicated that he was taking full responsibility for the future of St. Jude Hospital but not its past, youtube.com/watch?v=7VT-oEzDv50, (1:35:47), he seemed to have been referring to the period of the past SLP administration and ignoring the immediate past sixteen months of his administration.

But while he bears ultimate responsibility for the St. Jude Hospital reconstruction project, during the last eighteen months we can only find a record of four statements by Prime Minister Chastanet on the status of this project. The first statement was made on June 29, 2017, the second on October 5, 2017; and the third and fourth on November 29, 2017 and February 13, 2018, (see extracts below).

With his only briefly punctuated silence on St. Jude Hospital during the now more than eighteen months of this raging controversy, our Prime Minister has been decidedly “away”. Here’s what’s happened while he has been “away”.

In his interview during Part 1 of the “Untold Stories” video feature on St. Jude Hospital in October 2017, youtube.com/watch?v=qYeY9vXJIlk, (16:57 mins), Minister Guy Joseph revealed that he had not approved of the selection of the Project Manager for the St. Jude Hospital project during the previous UWP administration of 2006-2011.

Within ten days of the UWP administration resuming office in June 2016, Minister Joseph had visited the project site and declared that the delay in construction was the fault of the consultants, adding that if he had his way they would be fired immediately (The VOICE, September 3, 2016).

Within two weeks of that statement by Minister Joseph, the Consultant had been fired and renewal of the Project Manager’s contract refused, with Minister Joseph reported as stating that “he has since been able to terminate the services of the two leading entities who were involved with that project, (The VOICE, September 3, 2016).

It is impossible to disassociate Minister Joseph’s statements of disapproval of the consultants with their subsequent termination, but, other than Minister Joseph’s opinion at the time, there was no basis for this. So that when terminating the Consultant, the then Permanent Secretary offered the paper-thin excuse that the Ministry intended to undertake an audit of the project.

And so, in the absence of justification for terminating the consultants, this Ministry embarked on the conduct of an EC$1 million audit, an audit whose singular features are that it disclaims liability for its content and concludes with a recommendation for expenditure of a further EC$100 million, a recommendation which no one can make sense of.

Nevertheless, the Audit provides a textbook analysis of contracting procedures and criticizes the direct award of contracts, allowing Minister Joseph to subsequently criticize former Prime Minister Anthony’s management of this project.

As fate would have it, however, with Prime Minister Chastanet physically “away”, it fell to Minister Joseph as Acting Prime Minister to allegedly award thirty-one contracts by direct award, all in a single day, towards the end of last year.

Those awards did not seem to disturb Minister Joseph, who has alternately absolved Dr. Anthony of blame with respect to the management of the St. Jude Hospital project, blamed the Consultants to the project, then blamed the civil servants, before finally directing blame at Dr. Anthony.

But during this now eighteen-month period of blame game playing, here are this Government’s assessments of the status of St. Jude Hospital:

Minister Joseph, April 12, 2017: We were asked to find 68 beds but we were able to identify 70 to 75 (paraphrased). “Hopefully, before the end of this, month we should recommence construction activity, and within a short space of time we should have these rooms ready…” youtube.com/watch?v=mM_nNp4y-Vc (0:51; 5:46 mins);

Prime Minister Chastanet, June 29, 2017: “…And so certainly we’re not talking about a year. Idealistically, we would like to move in by the end of this year.” youtube.com/watch?v=c5hsE0bY9cY (5:34 mins);

Prime Minister Chastanet, October 5, 2017: “I’m hoping that over the next couple of weeks that we can come to some kind of conclusion on how we are going to move forward,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VT-oEzDv50 , (1:33:39);

Minister Joseph, October 23, 2017: “We went through every room and…we measured…and we could not get the 70 minimum beds that St. Jude is saying that if you give us we can go there.” youtube.com/watch?v=jFNQbaUOrxw (1:06:07). Compare this with the first statement above; and finally,

Minister Joseph, October 23, 2017: “We are designing a new hospital.” youtube.com/watch?v=jFNQbaUOrxw (59:28 mins).

But then:
Prime Minister Chastanet, November 29, 2017: “We’re in the process of making a decision.” htsstlucia.org/chastanet-questions-st-jude-protest-march-motive/, (1:35 mins,).

Many things seem to be happening while our Prime Minister is “away”, but it has now taken him more than twelve months since the receipt of that Technical Audit to make up his mind on St. Jude Hospital.

Next week: lessons from St. Jude Hospital.

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