In the name of we the people, as far back as the late 70s when John Compton was monarch of all he surveyed, I had to small avail demanded “transparency and accountability” in all matters related to governance. I took the cri de guerre with me in 1997 when I openly campaigned with Kenny Anthony’s Saint Lucia Labour Party for the removal of Compton’s surrogate prime minister Vaughan Lewis. I continued to demand as an SLP senator public transparency and accountability following the SLP’s unprecedented 16-1 election victory—and for that was given the boot, along with two other senators who had dared to echo my demands in relation to the unforgettable Helen Air debacle.
Of course, the star strategists knew a useful tool when they saw one. Shouting from the city’s market steps about transparency and accountability whenever convenient left the impression the SLP administration actually believed in the concept. Alas actions have a way of exposing false impressions. It wasn’t long before the party leader and prime minister was threatening to enact legislation that targeted the press (Section 361) and describing reporters as media “terrorists.” He went so far as to suggest whistle-blower public servants should serve prison time.
Oh how times have changed. In the age of Donald Trump there is Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook—social media!—all with their own peculiar grammar, new spelling for old words, convenient definitions and interpretations and a shared unconscionable disregard for the consequences of fake news.
Despite it continues to prevail, Truth’s chameleonic illegitimate half brother Phake Nooze has been given new cachet by no less than H.L. Mencken’s nightmare, the current President of the United States with his Halloween-masked insistence that whatever is spoken or written of him which does not further burnish his bronzed image cannot possibly be true—therefore must be exaggeration, unreliable: false. No surprise that Allen Chastanet’s long-time detractors, many over-ambitious former campaigners for transparency and accountability, have taken permanent residence in the shadow of Trump.
Just last week, never mind interested TV viewers world-wide had seen with their own eyes our nation’s prime minister deliver without interruption his acknowledged fine speech before the U.N. General Assembly, the word according to Facebook was that Allen Chastanet had taken ill soon after he stepped on the UNGA podium and had to be medicated before his doctors permitted him to deliver his address in its entirety.
It does not help that some government officials, new to the game, unwittingly place themselves like sacrificial lambs at the disposal of their worst detractors. Amidst much depressing, often mindless gibberish about the status of a building intended to replace the burned-out original St Jude Hospital in Vieux Fort, the health minister Mary Isaac declared to the media last week that her government was considering whether its best option in the circumstances was to “demolish” the 75 percent completed building. (I say, 75 percent but far more discouraging figures have been presented!) No surprise that the D-word had barely tumbled out of the health minister’s mouth than it was picked up by the largely antisocial media and given such spins as would render dizzier than usual even the 45th POTUS.
It made no sense that a structure that had been in the making since 2009 and inexplicably gobbled up an estimated $118 million would deliberately be reduced to rubble without good cause. But then, who can explain the thinking of rejected politicians desperate to be elected to office? Who can say for certain what makes their ticks tick? Three or four days following the health minister’s by any measure discombobulating pronouncement the singular Southeast Castries MP, Mr. Guy Joseph, presented himself to a baying pack of media wolves at the government’s usual Monday morning pre-Cabinet food fest.
Judging by their Facebook-inspired questions to the MP it seemed the collective interest had less to do with the unaccounted for millions than with the health minister’s use of the word “demolish.” As I say, even the great Johnnie Cochran during his illustrious career had turned down billions rather than accept a client with an unwinnable case. Perhaps on the occasion Guy Joseph underestimated the Brutus daggers in his audience. Or he placed loyalty to a colleague above all other considerations. Whatever his mindset, at Monday’s press briefing Guy Joseph for once appeared vulnerable. Suffice it to say the representative for Southeast Castries, famous as he has become for maneuvering himself out of the tightest corners inside the House and out, adept as he has proved at defining for his House opponents their particular roles, on Monday seemed stuck between the often cited devil and the deep blue sea when grilled about the immediate future of the structure intended to House St Jude Hospital—in particular about the health minister’s “demolition” notice.
He claimed he had not with his own ears heard the troublesome statement attributed to his colleague but “demolishing here does not mean the entire structure. There are certain components of the hospital that need to be redone.” While he could not furnish his questioners with details, he proffered that the government had been expertly advised it might be better off building something new instead of trying to salvage the present structure. “It has been recommended that to get St Jude functional,” he said, “the whole bottom floor must be condemned!”
It turns out the media may have misconstrued the words of health minister Isaac when she said: “From where I stand I believe the recommendation to demolish the hospital and start over again really needs to be considered seriously . . . We may not have a choice in the matter.” Hardly a determined course of action!
On Wednesday the government invited the press to join a team of experts (story elsewhere in this issue; see also page 4) on a tour of the structure at the center of the latest hospital controversy. Much of what reporters saw coincides with a November 2016 report by the United Nations Office for Project Services—UNOPS—(an operational arm of the United Nations, dedicated to implementing projects for the United Nations System, international financial institutions, governments and other partners in the aid world) on the St Jude situation:
“The situation of the St Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project is critical. Works have been stopped since July 2016 and a technical audit has been commissioned, aimed at determining what has been finalized and what needs to be completed. During the meetings and visits UNOPS has had it was highlighted that the SJHRP cannot be completed in accordance with the present design and an in-depth analysis and re-planning of its objective has to be completed before resuming works.”
UNOPS cited “several serious issues” in the design and construction of the new facility. They included wards without natural light, patient and staff flow as well as lighting problems in the out-patient clinic, the height of the sterilization unit’s ceiling and “the complexity of the roof of the east wing which can cause leaks and maintenance issues.”
The designs were “generally not patient friendly, will cause functionality issues and complications, and will increase unnecessarily the running costs—both for maintenance and operation—of the facility. As for the construction itself, the technical audit will determine all the issues to be addressed that are eventually present.”
There are also problems with the warranties of equipment already purchased. The condition of the equipment had not been determined. UNOPS suggested that advantage be taken of the work stoppage to reevaluate completely the project in terms of infrastructure, organization, medical equipment and furniture and most of all in strategy and objectives.
“One of the issues UNOPS has observed is the lack of integration of this facility within the health care network of Saint Lucia. Indeed some high level services proposed in St Jude Hospital might produce a duplication of costs with respect to the same services provided by the Owen King EU Hospital.”
UNOPS determined: “The third and most critical phase would be the redesign of the hospital, taking into consideration the population needs summarized in a new design brief and the existing constraints to define an overall strategy focusing on the next five years and within this strategy define an ‘optimal solution’ to prepare a ‘minimal infrastructure’ to move quickly the existing activities from the stadium site to the new site. The process of redesign shall indeed be focused in a global solution for the hospital to be implemented in phases where the first phase implies the transfer of most of the present hospital’s activities to the new site in a situation (of space, beds and comfort) equal or better than the present one, and the next phases would aim to complete an optimal facility for the years to come.”
It should be noted that UNOPS anticipated by this time an operational Owen King EU Hospital—as I write, more wishful thinking. Indeed, the facility, perhaps not surprisingly, suffers more than a few of the problems associated with that in Vieux Fort. Wednesday’s visitors were told by on-site experts that it will take in excess of $100 million to revive the comatose St Jude Hospital. Alas, the most vocal of the government’s detracted prefer not to discuss how we came to this sorry place, especially when Prime Minister Kenny Anthony had more than once personally expressed full satisfaction with all that had gone on since he assumed responsibility for St Jude in 2011.
Serious accountability questions remain to be answered, among them what exactly had given the prime minister in his time such cause for joy—so many demonstrations of, as it turns out, irrational exuberance. During a half-hearted interview he told one of his favorite reporters he could not be held responsible if in fact the project manager and the consultant had been less than perfect in their respective roles on the St Jude project. After all, he had “inherited” them upon returning to office in 2011. They were hired by his predecessors. By which he seemed to say the Stephenson King administration is to blame for the current situation. And then there is that whisper about $88 million still to be satisfactorily accounted for!