Yet another elephant in the room

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With the first phase originally scheduled for completion in 2014, the Islands Healthcare Complex will miss its latest completion deadline of 2019, with only sporadic piling works under-taken to date. As the main works of the new hospital complex are poised to be-gin in the future, critics fervently hope the administration can learn its lessons from other long-delayed public works. In a recent meeting with the sub-committee for land and public conces-sion affairs of the Legislative Assem-bly, Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo do Rosario confi rmed that work on the main building works of the hospital had yet to start as they were still revising the building plans. “It cer-tainly cannot be completed [by 2019],” the offi cial admitted.The new Cotai hospital, first an-nounced in 2010, will be the city’s sec-ond public hospital, besides Hospital Conde S. Januário in the Macau Penin-sula, to serve the territory’s growing population, which is projected to reach 750,000 by 2025 from the current fi g-ure of about 649,000. Double the size of Conde S. Januário Hospital, the new complex will comprise seven key facili-ties occupying 77,000 square metres.One of the reasons for the current delay is that the building plans of the project have to seek input from more than 10 government departments and public entities like the Fire Services Bu-reau, Civil Aviation Authority, Environ-mental Protection Bureau and the elec-tricity company. “The government did not have a well thought out blueprint for the project so it has had to be modifi ed several times,” says legislator Ho Ion Sang, president of the sub-committee. “When consulted, the government bodies did not provide all the sugges-tions at once… delaying the progress of the project,” he noted. Of the seven buildings, the authorities have only fi -nalised the construction plans for two. As a 10-day period is now set for the departments to submit their input, Mr. Ho hopes the project can catch up with the schedule. “We hope the administra-tion can enhance co-operation and co-ordination across different departments – not wasting time in these bureaucratic procedures,” he added. Sharing pie Having the building plans ready is only the beginning. What many others are concerned about is how government will oversee construction. “The authorities like to divide a large public project into many small parts for different companies to bid so that local constructors – albeit of smaller scale compared with Mainland Chinese and international companies – can have the opportunity to participate,” said legislator Au Kam San.But he is worried that allowing numerous contractors to supervise the same project could lead to delays as with the Light Rapid Transit railway. “If one part of the project does not complete on time, the whole project will be stalled,” he remarked. “Another problem is how well [the government] can co-ordinate the works of these contractors.”The construction of the Taipa sec-tion of the railway comprises five parts – namely three routes, a depot super-structure and a transportation hub – un-dertaken by different consortiums. The progress of the depot, however, lags other parts as the original contractor had a fall-ing out with the government resulting in the termination of their contract. A new tender for the depot was re-opened this May, and constitutes a major reason for the delay of the Taipa section.“The government should learn its lesson from the debacle of the railway project, avoiding dividing the [new] hos-pital into too many parts, and concen-trating its efforts on supervising a few contractors to make sure their works are delivered on schedule,” Mr. Au said. Project manager In a bid to avoid repeating the chaos surrounding other public projects, Eddie Joe Wu Chou Kit, president of the Macau Society of Civil and Structural Engineers, believes the administration should make prompt responses to the equests of the contractors during con-struction. “Whenever a problem arises and the contractor makes a request for some changes in the works it takes weeks for [the authorities] to review and approve,” he said. “It should delegate more powers to the project manager, who could make a swift response to the contractors or designers [of the project],” he suggests. “Other ongoing casino projects here, like the public ones, also face similar problems but their project managers can quickly address any issues and keep the schedule on track.”Like the railway project, the hos-pital complex could introduce a mech-anism of incentives and penalties, Mr. Wu added. Speeding up the con-struction progress of the railway project, the authorities said in June that the con-tractors might get a bonus of up to 8 per cent of their contract value if they complete all the works by or before the deadline, in addition to fi nes being lev-ied upon them for delays. The proposal, however, was rebuffed by some who think it is a basic obligation of any con-tractor to complete the works on time. Missing forecast Apart from the construction progress, Mr. Wu emphasised the importance of a budget forecast to cap all expenditure from surging exponentially. Despite several hard-hitting reports by the audit watchdog on public projects in the past that an overall budget estimate should be compiled before the start of any works, there is not yet a total cost for the Cotai hospital.When announcing the plan for the new hospital, the administration said it planned to invest MOP10 billion (US$1.25 billion) in the next decade to improve local healthcare resources, including the construction of the new complex. Since then, however, it hasn’t revealed any update on the stand-alone cost of the new hospital.Mr. Rosario said in June that a budget forecast could be confi rmed only after the tenders for the main works of some buildings in the complex had been opened. The authorities have so far granted MOP1.45 billion in eight con-tracts regarding design, project man-agement, consulting services and piling works of the new hospital, including a MOP235 million design contract for an architectural fi rm run by Executive Council Member Eddie Wong Yue Kai.“The government should confi rm the budget and tell the public as soon as possible,” said legislator Wong Kit Cheng. “It should already have a budget in mind, given the MOP10 billion fi g-ure it mentioned in 2010, so it should not splurge the coffers without any con-straints.” Decade of work Another fi gure in the construction in-dustry, speaking on condition of ano-nymity, calculates the hospital can only be completed after 2020. “There are just too many public projects the govern-ment is juggling . . . from the new hos-pital to the new reclaimed land plots to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to other public housing projects,” the fi gure said. “And Secretary Raimundo do Rosario has also said that the gov-ernment departments in his portfolio are understaffed.”The source also warned that “the complexity of soil texture” may add uncertainty to the construction of the hospital, as its site was a reclaimed land parcel. “One of the major arguments be-tween the administration and the [now-dismissed] contractor of the railway depot was about the poor soil texture of the reclaimed land there,” the fi gure said. “The contractor was unwilling to improve the soil texture without any additional payments but the authorities refused to concede.”Pressed by reporters about the stalled progress of the new hospital in June, Lei Chin Ion, director of the Health Bureau, claimed some hospitals in Hong Kong also took more than 10 years to be built. “You can’t say the gov-ernment has not done anything [in these years since 2010],” he said defensively.