Finance Minister Colm Imbert is set to probe why $239 million was allocated by the previous government towards the Couva Children's Hospital when the project was being fully funded by the Chinese government.
He raised the issue yesterday during the Standing Finance Committee meeting on the expenditure of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development held at the Parliament.
Imbert said it was his understanding that the project was financed through a government-to-government loan facility with the Chinese government and therefore, normally, there was no obligation for the T&T Government to finance the construction of the hospital.
The lender is the Export Import Bank of China on behalf of China. The loan matures in 20 years.
Imbert was responding to questions raised by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. But in trying to find out why no allocation was made towards the hospital in 2016, she found herself being cross-questioned by Imbert.
On August 14, Persad-Bissessar "opened" the hospital; however, it has since remained closed to the public.
Persad-Bissessar said an allocation of $130 million was made in 2014, an estimate of $140 million in 2015 with a revised allocation of $109 million, and then "nothing" in 2016 for the hospital.
She said, "No allocation is being made in 2016 and I am asking why. Is it that the hospital construction has been complete?
Imbert said, "Well, you opened it." Persad-Bissessar then said she was asking a question and that he was now in charge.
After much crosstalk, he said it was Persad-Bissessar who was the prime minister at the time who promoted the project and secured financing from the Chinese government.
"She cut the ribbon and opened the hospital with great fanfare just before the election. So, it's just wrong for the Honourable Leader of the Opposition to say or pretend that she does not know. This project, if you have been paying attention, has been transferred to the Ministry of Health and I think we now need to investigate this since this was supposed to be fully funded by the Chinese. We need to know why the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was spending money on this project and I can assure you that there will be an investigation."
He said too that he was shocked that Persad-Bissessar would ask if construction was completed on the hospital.
"I assure this Parliament that we will find out whether that building was complete or not. We will advise the national population through the medium of this Parliament," Imbert said.
Contacted after Parliament, Imbert said he also intended to look at the 2013 expenditure to see if any money was allocated towards the project.
He said via text, "This is a very expensive project, at $1.5 billion where the construction cost was $1 billion, and another $500 million was for fees, etc.
"That is an unusually high amount for non-construction costs, which are usually a maximum of 20 per cent of the construction cost for a specialised project."
According to a June 1, 2013, article on news.gov.tt, the estimated cost of construction of the children's hospital was $975 million.
The article said funding for the institution was through a government-to-government arrangement with China.
It said the hospital will stand on a 60-acre site on lands from the former Caroni (1975) Ltd.
However, by June 25, 2013, it was announced by former health minister Dr Fuad Khan that Cabinet had approved $1.521 billion for the project.
T&T Guardian files showed:
�2 pre-construction work was estimated at $53.1 million for access roads, bridge, works, placement of electricity and water lines and natural gas lines;
�2 construction and fit-out works were set at $1.3 billion for design, construction and fit-out external works, landscaping and handover; and
�2 works to completion were put at $464.7 million for project development, consultancy, duties, taxes, site development, project management, fees and miscellaneous expenses, inclusive of security, insurances and utilities.
Khan had said then: "The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.520,924, 891.98. In this connection, Cabinet has approved a budget of $1.521 billion."