(Above): What Minister Ottley met when entering office as Minister of VSA in April 2021. (Below): Work accomplished during Ottley’s tenure thus far.
PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley says more work has been completed on the new St. Maarten General Hospital (SMGH) during his tenure than in the previous five years combined.
This was stated by the minister is a press release issued on Monday. In the release Ottley dispelled the politically motivated contrast attempted by some who recently criticised the pace of constructing the new General Hospital in St. Maarten as “the politricks of misinformation in an election year”.
“While I share the same sentiments as the general public concerning the pace of the new hospital, the issues with the hospital started way before my political journey,” said Ottley. “As elections draw closer, it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between genuine concerns and fraudulent misrepresentations of the truth by those who seek to manipulate the public’s perception of reality.”
According to the release, in 2019 Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a vote of no-confidence firing the then Minister of VSA Emil Lee, with one of the main points of the motion being his inability to start construction for the new general hospital, two-and-a-half years after the contract was signed. Since then, there were three Ministers of Health in the past five years prior to Ottley with little to no results where construction work for the new hospital is concerned.
“People sometimes forget that I have only been in the executive office for a year and seven months. Based on the progress made to build the new hospital since then, imagine where we would have been if I were in office for four years.” said Ottley. History would recall that the hospital’s troubles surfaced in 2016, when the then government changed the general contractor from VAMED to INSO.”
On November 25, 2016, the Court of First Instance said Social and Health Insurances SZV was forbidden from having INSO build the new Hospital, according to the release. Failure to comply would have resulted in penalty payments, starting at US $1 million to a maximum of $25 million.
In March 2017, SZV and VAMED settled their disputes out of Court, paving the way for INSO. In September that year, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated St. Maarten and dealt a further blow to the island’s hopes of developing the new General Hospital.
The release went on to state that on December 3, 2018, St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC) and government held the ground-breaking ceremony at the construction site. The grounds were officially handed over to INSO a year later, in December 2019, to start construction. “However, no significant works had been done between then and the arrival of Ottley in office.”
Ottley said, “When you put into context the history of the new General Hospital, it shows a turbulent six years, with no construction work done. This includes a legal battle over the selection of two different general contractors and the vote of no-confidence in then Minister of Health Lee by his own political party UD now DP (Democratic Party) in Parliament.”
INSO also had its challenges resulting in financial oversight to restore its viability. They were successful, and today, the current general contractor, INSO –now FINSO– is in place.
In stark contrast to previous years of non-activity at the job site, since Ottley took office on April 21, 2021, the contractors have poured more than 4,000 cubic meters of concrete, said the release. They have done major work to raise the level of the entire grounds for the new Hospital by seven meters to prevent flooding.
FINSO has also built a retaining wall and built a solid earthquake-resistant foundation with some of the largest single pours of concrete in St. Maarten’s history under Ottley’s watch. FINSO has also constructed the walls around the foundation.
FINSO has started creating seven water tanks and generator stations, and has started producing the walls as the building begins to take shape.
According to the release, two major challenges overshadowed SMMC’s hopes of a new hospital, SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) which became a pandemic crippled global economies by 2020, and slowed the movement of goods, which increased the cost of doing business.
Then in February 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, shipping, fuel, and material prices skyrocketed. “Despite these challenges, upon reaching office, I ensured that as much construction as possible was happening. As I stated before, more progress was made in the construction of the hospital than combined over the prior five years,” said Ottley.
Ottley and SMMC executed their strategy to mitigate damage and loss already experienced by past events to ensure that the work now started on building the new hospital did not stop.
“Since 2016, previous administrations only gave lip service to the construction process. Five years later, by April 2021, no concrete was poured into constructing the new hospital,” the minister concluded.