Opposition MP queries $110m jump to complete hospital project

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A section of the construction zone at the central block of the Port of Spain General Hospital. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal is calling on the Prime Minister to tell the country why taxpayers must now pay an additional $110 million to complete the construction of the central block of Port of Spain General Hospital.

He also wants Dr Rowley to provide the “pertinent facts” on the decision of the Shanghai Construction Group (SGC) to withdraw from the project.

Moonilal, who served as minister of housing and urban development in the former UNC government from 2010-2015, said Rowley must explain whether he knew of the SCG’s departure from the project when he had responded to a question on the issue in Parliament last January.

At a news conference on Thursday, chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott) Noel Garcia, said it will now cost taxpayers an additional $110 million to complete the central block of the hospital after the SCG, the main contractor, pulled out.

The project started in 2020 with an initial budget of $1.1 billion and was originally due to be completed by the end of the year.

Garcia told reporters that Udecott has agreed to hire local contractors to complete the project in March 2024.

But in a statement on Saturday, Moonilal reminded citizens that early in the Rowley-led PNM administration, Udecott was moved from the Ministry of Housing to the Office of the Prime Minister, “Then hours after a key financial arrangement with Global Finance was signed off.”

He said there are many questions unresolved after Garcia’s announcement.

Moonilal said Garcia did not offer the reasons for the SGC’s withdrawal from the project nor did he state whether it was prompted by money concerns.

He regarded the SGC as one of the world’s premier construction and engineering corporations, worth more than US$6 billion, saying it “would not take a commercial decision to walk away from a contract without compelling reasons.”

The UNC MP recalled he had gotten wind of the SCG’s retreat from the project in January and asked Rowley in Parliament to provide details to taxpayers whom, he said, were funding the reconstruction exercise.

“Dr Rowley stated that threats were laid but I am not sure whether, in fact, those threats were carried out.”

He also noted that Garcia had said in the media conference that SCG served a notice of termination on November 5, which took effect on November 19.

“Mr Garcia’s half-baked statement did not inform taxpayers of the official reasons for the decision and what were the unresolved issues after conciliatory meetings between both parties.”

Moonilal accused Udecott of gross incompetence and mismanagement of what he considered to be a “primary public project,” and likened it to what had obtained “under the dark tenure of Calder Hart a decade and a half ago.”

He said the refusal of the SCG to reconsider its decision, despite repeated pleas from Udecott, is a deeply disturbing matter.

“The entire issue demands full and timely disclosure from the Prime Minister.”

In a November 5, 2020 letter, SGC threatened to quit its contract owing to grouses such as an unexpected extra US$9 million in freight costs plus the financial fallout of bureaucratic delays blamed on a project official.

The delays had doubled the construction period from 22 to 44 months. A delay in steel imports has idled 40 workers for four months.

Border closures led SCG to fire Chinese subcontractors and hire local firms at a “higher cost and extra time.”