Saint Lucia
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St. Jude Hospital Today: Between Chalk, Charcoal and Head-Cornerstones

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

If you listen to the Opposition’s loudest mouths, you’d swear absolutely nothing is happening here -under this government.

But that’s not-at-all strange, especially as today’s opposition has more to hide about its comparable achievements in office, than it can show what this government has failed to do.

Take reconstruction of the St. Jude Hospital that caught fire since 2009, under the present opposition’s watch, but which it left in no-better-state in 2021, after seven years forcing square-pegs into round-holes to rebuild the only hospital serving the entire South of the island.

After the fire, the government quickly transferred patients to the China-built George Odlum stadium, but up to the 2011 General Elections, it had failed to get anywhere-close to starting reconstruction.

The new Dr Kenny D. Anthony administration immediately went into high gear to get the reconstruction project going after the 2011 elections, the second regime-change since 2006.

The new administration undertook a five-year plan that included construction of new blocks, wards and wings, which it brought to over-90% completion by the end of its 2016 term.

But a third successive regime in 2016 yielded Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, whose administration’s first major St. Jude move was, not to complete the less-than ten percent left on the seven-year project, but to instead authorize an audit that determined the project should not be completed.

Based on that $900,000+ recommendation, the administration condemned the entirely-new structures and started yet-another new project, seeking new and additional finances.

The exterior of a new facility to replace the inherited, near-complete and new structure was decorated with colorful futuristic impressions of what the government said would emerge from the structure taking shape inside.

But between 2016 and 2021, builders, contractors and engineers not associated with the project had freely and publicly advised that what was happening was clearly nothing-at-all – until a popular Vieux Fort-based online critic shared a long, naked and ugly view of the inside that publicly revealed everything the oversized flashing-mirror posters had concealed.

The 2021 elections resulted in the fourth successive regime change and the incoming administration, under new Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre, inherited a veritable giant concrete shoe box – a structure nowhere-close to looking anything like a place to house a hospital.

Scores of millions of dollars had been spent on the empty bricks-and-mortar box, with no sign of completion.

It looked like the money borrowed and spent on the project in the previous five years was for payments for everything else but delivering on the election promises for a new hospital.

This administration’s investigations into its predecessors’ handling of the St. Jude Hospital funds revealed many unbelievable-but-true findings that defied any sense of financial responsibility or accountability and transparency, including apparent payments for goods and services either undelivered, unseen, under-rated and/or excessively over-charged.

This Prime Minister has tabled all reports on findings of investigations into the state of St. Jude finances, each attracting jaw-dropping reactions from taxpayers.

After 25 (successive) years as MP for Castries East and only 25 months in government, this Prime Minister continues making it a duty – like from Day One after taking office in August 2021 – to both count the nation’s losses and seek the needed finances to complete the reconstruction project and free-up the stadium for the nation’s athletes.

It’s been 14 years since the fire and on August 4 – two years after taking office – PM Pierre announced a US$75 million (EC $203.2 million) agreement with the Saudi Development Fund (SDF), to complete the hospital project and to return the George Odlum Stadium to its earlier glory.

According to a statement by the SDF announcing the agreement on August 4, the low-interest loan “will help provide an integrated medical facility offering secondary medical care, with a capacity of about 100 beds.”

It added, “The project will also involve renovating the hospital’s southern, eastern, and western wings, as well as other buildings.”

In addition, “The hospital will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including a pharmacy, maternity wards, accident and emergency department, and operating rooms for surgery.”

The SDF added, “The project will also contribute toward creating employment, both during construction and once the renovations are complete; and it will also support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Construction and Industrial Equipment (CIE) – which recently built a specialized hospital in Dominica in record time – is the new contractor and Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers who recently visited the site expressed pleasure about the state of progress on the near-completed buildings the previous administration had mothballed for five years.

The difference in approaches is pellucidly clear.

The previous administration had also scrubbed a brand-new $21 million meat processing facility nearby at Beausejour – funded by Taiwan – to make way for a promised upscale horse-racing track that was in turn scrubbed by COVID.

But under the present contractor, the government and people can clearly see how their money is being spent at St. Jude’s – and the difference is like between chalk and charcoal.

This administration has handled the project’s finances in ways that have allowed it to pay accumulated debts while also seeking international partners for a final solution to the hospital and stadium’s perennial problems.

Truth will always trump lies, so eventually even opposition supporters are starting to argue over whether this administration will or won’t complete the St. Jude hospital project before the end of this term.

But the common denominator in their quiet disagreement is recognition that this administration will finally end the endless St. Jude blues this nation – and particularly the people of the South – have endured for 14 years, through four administrations.

The bottom line is, however, that when it comes to the pace of progress on a much-needed project that could have been completed in shorter time, there’s no escaping that this is also a another very-clear case of the proverbial stone that the builder refused becoming the head-cornerstone.