The condemned Port of Spain General Hospital central block which is yet to be demolished. – SUREASH CHOLAI
IT will cost taxpayers $110 million more and take an additional two years to complete construction of the Port of Spain General Hospital central block which was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2018.
At a news conference hosted by the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) on Thursday, its chairman Noel Garcia reiterated that the main contractor, Shanghai Construction Group (SCG), pulled out of the contractual agreement.
As a result, Udecott, with Cabinet’s approval, agreed to hire local contractors to complete the work.
Garcia said the new completion date is expected to be March 2024. The project started in 2020 and was originally earmarked to be finished by the end of this year.
The initial budget was $1.1 billion.
“To date, we have paid the contractor approximately $350 million. We estimate what is left of the budget is around $753 million.
“With this new configuration, we have a slight uptick of $110 million which represents just about a ten per cent increase. But if you are following world trends in terms of prices, freight prices went from $4,000 to $18,000, steel prices have gone up by 35 per cent, lumber and other material increased up to 40 per cent. We feel this approach has saved the government money.”
In November 2021, SCG told Udecott in a letter of its intentions to pull out of the project.
In January, Garcia denied claims by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal that work on the site had stopped.
At a UNC virtual forum in January, Moonilal accused the government of forcefully trying to “tack on” a sub-contractor to the main contractor.
But Garcia said then that SCG had only outlined to Udecott several concerns and issues on supplies in its November letter, and both parties were expected to meet and decide a way forward by mid-February.
Contacted on Thursday, Moonilal blamed “the incompetence of Udecott which has led to the collapse of a billion-dollar project.” He vowed not to rest until he uncovers “the incompetence and corruption associated with that project.”
Notice of termination was served on November 5 and took effect on November 19. Thereafter, Udecott secured the site and allowed the contractors to pack up, Garcia explained on Thursday.
Udecott said it spent the past months trying to convince SCG to reconsider its decision. Garcia said even with Udecott’s best efforts, the company insisted it preferred not to continue and told Udecott this in a letter dated April 8.
SCG said owing to the uncertainty of logistics in terms of supplies, the increase in material/equipment prices and labour cost, it was unable to provide a complete budget for the completion of the project.
Udecott chairman Noel Garcia. –
In the letter, read by Garcia, SCG said, “It would be better for the government of TT and in Udecott’s best interest to find another contractor to complete the project.”
The company also said an ongoing lockdown at its main office in Shanghai interfered with the progress of its ongoing projects.
Garcia said he preferred not to share the full contents of the letter, but was able to list other reasons why SCG could not go through with the contract.
He said the letter explained that most of the staff have been away from their families for three years and “it is reasonable and necessary to arrange a vacation for their family reunions.”
The company said it would have been challenging to move a new batch of workers from China to Trinidad to have the project restarted.
Considering the close relationship between TT and SCG, the company promised to provide technical support where possible.
Udecott is still negotiating settlements on all outstanding claims with SCG.
Over 65 per cent of the steel for the project is in Trinidad and the rest is on its way. Udecott had already awarded a contract for the demolition of the existing central block. So far, the foundation and ground-floor slabs have been completed.
SCG workers had already started erecting steel just before the pandemic.
Garcia said, “This is why we can confidently predict that work would be completed in that time.”
The remainder of the work will be divided into seven packages.
Tendering for the first package, which includes the completion of the remaining steelworks, sheer wall and slab, would be sent out on Tuesday.
All tenders are expected to go out, evaluated and contracts awarded by August 2023.
“Other packages would include builders work, medical equipment, furniture, ICT equipment among other works,” Garcia said.
“What is important is this new approach would be beneficial as work can commence almost immediately and sequence in such a manner not to cause any downtime. The tender process would provide the opportunity for specialised and general contractors to be awarded portions of the work and would eliminate overheads by the main contractor.”
He stressed that this would maximise local labour and create hundreds of job opportunities.
“This approach was used to complete the Red House in record time after 17 years of trying to complete it.”
TT Contractors Association president Glenn Mahabirsingh welcomed Udecott’s decision to use local contractors. He said he is confident local contractors have the experience, capability and capacity to take on such a major project.