A government sponsored media tour of the St Jude Hospital Rehabilitation Project, Wednesday, revealed that much work still remains to be done contrary to reports by the previous administration that the hospital was well on its way to completion.
Media personnel encountered an empty shell of a hospital, somewhat of a surprise to them after former Economic Affairs Minister Guy Joseph stated eight months ago that “…what we see happening there are the finishing works for St Jude. What we have left to do now is our gas line, electricals…”
Joseph, during his tenure in office, assured Saint Lucians that the hospital would be completed within his administration’s term of office, further stating that should this not happen, Saint Lucians should vote his party out of office.
Maundy Lewis, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Philip J Pierre, who accompanied personnel on the tour, said that government thought it necessary to open the St. Jude Hospital Redevelopment Project to the media so they can make their own assessment.
“In no way will we try to influence the outcome of the tour, but from the government’s point of view we want the people to see the amount of money that has been spent, we want them to decide for themselves whether this is acceptable, whether that after almost 11 years that it is right that the people of the South do not have a proper functioning hospital,” Lewis said.
“Right now we are waiting on the report from the committee who reviewed the project. We do know that there is an interim report, but we’re waiting for the final report because that then will tell us how we move forward,” Lewis said.
The Cabinet of Ministers last month appointed a five-man committee to review the hospital’s reconstruction project. The committee is expected to review the options for completion of the hospital and its commissioning and report its findings at the end of four weeks.
According to Lewis there are three options on the table: 1. Whether government does any rehabilitation to the George Odlum Stadium where the current hospital is being housed, 2. Whether government should put more money into the facility to try to complete it or 3. Whether government go back to the original St. Jude’s site and see how quickly it can finish it and get people in.
Contractor/Engineer Robertson Felicien of the company Fresh Start said that the works on the project, which was halted for three years by the previous administration, started in October 2019.
“The new administration came in and we’ve been asked to do permanent works as they re-evaluate what is going on. We had COVID on site so work stopped for a little while. The permanent works is the drainage, the sewer system, anything that is not inside the building,” he said.
“The hospital was initially designed for 98 beds but during construction the entrance was 30 feet high and it was decided that such a grand entrance is not required in a third world country, so a floor was introduced, which introduced 3, 500 square feet of floor space and that’s an additional nine to ten beds and as a result the facility is now a 108 bed facility,” Felicien said.
According to him works currently underway are construction of the elevator shaft, court yards and the sewer system.
Felicien is of the view that with the necessary resources on hand, and with everyone working diligently, “realistically it may take 18 months to two years to finish the hospital.”
Meanwhile Prime Minister Pierre, in a September 14, 2021 statement to Parliament noted that he and others who accompanied him on a guided tour of the project were appalled at what they discovered.
He said the new hospital wing or building under construction was far from completion. “I mean it is years away- despite the pronouncements by the then government, that it was months from usage. Typical of the last administration’s conduct – it was another public statement of untruths to the people,” Pierre said.
He said that since that visit he had been provided with a status report on the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project from the Department of Economic Development.
He highlighted some significant aspects of the report: “The cumulative expenditure on the project from site preparation which commenced on February 2019 to July 2021 amounts to EC$118.05 million. Of this amount EC$89.3 million has been paid to date, leaving outstanding liabilities of EC$28.74 million.” This means that the value of active contracts for works and services and consultancies performed amount to EC$28.74M.
“The cumulative expenditure of EC$118.05 million has been incurred through a total of 14 contracts that have been signed by the Government of Saint Lucia (GOSL) and the various contractors, suppliers, consultants and service providers. All of these contracts were procured via direct purchase approved by the Minister of Finance.”
Pierre said that that meant that there was no tendering process.
“Pursuant to the loan agreement signed between the GOSL and the Exim Bank of Taiwan in January 2020 for US$20 million or EC$53.76 million, the loan proceeds were to be made directly to the Overseas Engineering and Construction Company (OECC), which was designated the main contractor on the project. Accordingly, a GOSL/OECC contract was entered into for the full amount of US$20 million (EC$53.67 million) to facilitate OECC making payments to the subcontractor on the basis of completed and certified works.” This unusual arrangement in effect relegated the OECC to paymasters for the de facto main contractor, Fresh Start Construction Company. OECC was never involved in the construction works at St. Jude hospital.
The report continues, “Given that designs had not been finalized and were being submitted to DCA on a phased basis, the project started without a final cost figure. However, even with an engineer’s estimates based on design consultancy, the final costings could only be derived upon receipt of the priced bills of quantities from the contractor.”
In essence, there are no DCA approved complete set of drawings for the project, which makes it impossible to arrive at a final cost figure for the structure under construction.