~ 10 years before hospital project is completed ~
Independent Member of Parliament Christophe Emmanuel announced on Tuesday that he had sent a letter to the Minister of Public Health regarding the recently signed letter of intent (LOI) between SMMC and contractor FINSO. He called the development “amazing and embarrassing” in light of previous statements made by SMMC, FINSO, and the Minister as well as the fact that FINSO has not mentioned that hospitals it is building in other parts of the world are experiencing delays.
It should be plainly evident to the average observer and the people of St. Maarten that the government operates with no regard for its responsibility to be accountable and transparent to the people who elected it, that much is already known. Therefore, the continued delays with the hospital and airport projects should not come as a surprise to anyone; rather, they are just additional proof that this government is irreparably damaged, according to Emmanuel.
The MP was reacting to a “carefully crafted, cunning and misleading” press release from the government on Tuesday announcing that SMCC and FINSO recently signed an LOI “regarding the adjusted terms for the construction of St. Maarten General Hospital (SMGH) in the presence of Minister of VSA Omar Ottley, marking the next step in the continuation of the project.”
MP Emmanuel said that line is remarkable in two instances: First, it is misleading in the sense that it implies that the LOI is a planned “next step” in the construction of the hospital, which it is not. Secondly, he noted, the Minister of VSA who has always said that he is not part of the contractual business between SMMC and FINSO, has placed the government of St. Maarten firmly in a seat of contract negotiations between the two entities. He pointed out that this also confirms what MP Rolando Brison said on radio a few weeks ago that the Minister is aware of the financial situation surrounding the hospital project.
“So from now on, the Minister cannot use the excuse of not being privy to information, to not answer questions about the hospital. The obvious question is why was a LOI needed? Is this a financial issue or a supply issue? If only the latter, why a LOI? Is the project going to cost more or less? Has additional financing from the stakeholders been requested? If yes, how much and from whom? Is SZV giving more money? If yes, how much? The press release announced a new opening date for the new hospital of 2025. That means barring any other setbacks, it would have taken almost 10 years to construct a hospital on St. Maarten,” MP Emmanuel said, adding that FINSO is apparently not being held accountable for anything.
Additionally, the MP said, a (LOI) is a document outlining the general plans of an agreement between two or more parties before a legal agreement is finalized. It is not a contract, he said, it is problematic to legally enforce even if it should signify a serious commitment. “That alone begs many questions about what exactly has to be done by whichever party in order to formalize a binding contract. How long will that process take? The public should know what its government is signing them up for,” Emmanuel said.
He continued: “The Minister and SMMC keeps using the excuse of material supply issues due to the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. In the meantime, other major projects on St. Maarten has started and completed, entire new airports in the region has started and completed, huge new commercial buildings on St. Maarten has started and completed, new hotels on neighboring islands has started and completed, new housing projects on other islands have started and completed. So how is it they didn’t suffer the same delays while going through the same pandemic and same war in Ukraine? How is it we have a hospital and an airport that is taking near a decade to start and complete?”
If you keep up with international news, you might be aware that FINSO employees recently staged a walkout due to their mounting worries about the future of the business. They stated that despite the company having three succeeding CEOs, none of them had offered a future employee plan. Additionally, they were troubled by the ongoing sale of FINSO assets. Following the statement of the CEO of the parent firm (Fincantieri Spa) that he intends to invest primarily and only in core business activities, their worries increased. For the benefit of those who are unaware, FINSO is a division (subsidiary) of the Fincantieri Spa Group, whose primary activity is shipbuilding. Has the VSA Minister sufficiently investigated this company’s long-term viability,” Emmanuel asked.
The MP also questioned how FINSO can claim to have so many problems with constructing a small hospital on St. Maarten when in the last month alone, it has been contracted to execute a hospital project in Sardinia, Italy and will inaugurate another in Chile in 2023 which started in 2020 an continued throughout the pandemic. These hospitals, according to media reports in those countries, will have over 500 hospital beds, with one of the facilities being larger than 16 football fields.
“Those projects are flowing, how are they not affected by supply issues? Both of them are scheduled to be completed before 2025. But on St. Maarten, we are waiting almost 10 years a hospital that can fit umpteen times in the spaces those two will be constructed. Somebody please make this make sense,” Emmanuel said.
“First the airport is now up to 150 million with no explanation and delayed once more apparently, we are still waiting for clarification on that. Now SMMC barely got past the pouring of the foundation and we are left to wonder where has the approximate US $100 million the contractor has received thus far has gone; apparently, into the most expensive foundation in the world.”
“We get a press release with all sorts of innuendos about an increased workforce in January 2023 and renegotiation of terms. This from a company that has consistently failed to maintain and pay the workforce and subcontractors under its umbrella for the past few years. The Minister of VSA needs to explain to the public what these new terms of the LOI are, provide complete financial disclosure, and assure the people of St. Maarten that he is comfortable that this will finally end the embarrassment that is the hospital project once and for all. As usual once I get my answers I will inform the public since we cannot count on this government to recognize and fulfill its obligations to its citizens,” MP Emmanuel concluded.