Since being started in 2002, the cost of the hospital has escalated from an initial figure of $139 million, by gradations each year, to a current and latest estimated cost of $719 million.
This shocking cost-overrun was revealed by Minister for Tobago Affairs, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, at last Thursday’s post-Cabinet news briefing, where she was accompanied by Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis.
The project, in our view has been a sorry saga of cost overruns and delayed delivery-dates, costing the country millions of dollars in dubious expenses, whether the hundreds of millions spent in escalated costs of construction, or the $18 million incurred of necessity by the State as the cost of legal fees in arbitration to try to put right the whole affair.
Up to March 2005, the original contractor NH International had done 35 percent of the construction and had been paid $155 million, said the Ministers on Thursday, after which the new contractor China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) was paid $252 million (of its $477 million contract).
The project remains only 72 percent complete.
Alleyne-Toppin said the completion date has again been pushed back, this time to March 2011. So this means that despite some $449 million being spent so far on this project according to Minister Baptiste-Cornelis, Tobagonians will have had to wait nine years for their hospital. Nine years!
In addition, Baptiste-Cornelis said a further $240 million is needed to fund the completion of the project.
From where we stand this is a dizzying array of numbers spelling out costs and completion dates. We certainly endorse Cabinet’s decision for a forensic audit of the whole project. Meanwhile we can only encourage Tobagonians to take some sort of comfort from the pledge of the new Government to complete the project.
We welcome the assurance of Minister Alleyne-Toppin, who herself was recently elected to carry out the aspirations of the people of Tobago. She has reassured, “The Cabinet has agreed that the project will not be halted due to the audit. The building will be continued so that healthcare can be continued.”
Otherwise we note that the hospital is just the latest scandal to be highlighted by the new Government, which has earlier this week revealed the scandal of costly rentals of office-space by the former regime , the purchase of a faulty, used high speed boat (HSV Su), and the escalating costs of the Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) under construction. What next, we ask?