Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor (VSA), the Honorable Omar Ottley, has dispelled the politically motivated contrast attempted by some who recently criticized the pace of constructing the new General Hospital in Sint Maarten as "the politricks of misinformation in an election year." Minister Ottley stated “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.”
Minister Ottley, said on Sunday, "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."
In 2019, members of parliament 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 Minister 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 was 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 & Health Insurances SZV was forbidden from having INSO build the new Hospital. Failure to comply would have resulted in penalty payments starting at US $1 million to a maximum of $25 million. In March 2017, the SZV and VAMED settled their disputes out of Court, paving the way for INSO. In September that year, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Sint Maarten and dealt a further blow to the island's hopes of developing the new General Hospital.
Then on December 3, 2018, 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 Minister Ottley in office. Minister 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 Minister Ottley took office on April 21 2021, the contractors have poured over 4000 cubic meters of concrete. They have done major work to raise the level of the entire grounds for the new Hospital by 7 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 Sint Maarten’s history under Minister Ottley’s watch. FINSO has also constructed the walls around the foundation. They have already started creating seven water tanks and generator stations, and have started producing the walls as the building begins to take shape. 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. Minister Ottley said, "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.”
Ottley and the St. Maarten Medical Centre 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. Minister Ottley said, "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."