THE demolition of the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital could soon start after the nine contractors who had charged the Ministry of Public Works M29 million for the job accepted to lower their price to match the M16 million the ministry was awarded in budget.
The announcement was made by Ministry of Public Work Principal Secretary Mothabathe Hlalele yesterday after protracted delays that recently saw the Ministry of Health (MoH) threatening to do the work on its own.
Mr Hlalele said the nine contractors had agreed to continue working on the reviewed M16 million although they would only do part of the work to match the budget. He said the contractors would now collaborate with the ministry’s procurement department to quantify the work that they would do under the new arrangement.
He said some of the work was likely to be done by the contractor responsible for the construction of the hospital.
Mr Hlalele said the demolition job was complex but was also compounded by the fact that the site is in the central business district. He said among the nine contractors, some are responsible for the electricity connections, some water and others for telecommunications.
Earlier this week, health minister Nkaku Kabi said the ministry had taken the matter into its own hands as they were running against time.
Minister Nkaku Kabi told the media this week that although it was the job of the Ministry of Public Works to demolish the hospital, his ministry would have to go it to ensure that they do not miss the opportunity of getting funding from China.
The Chinese government last year pledged an additional M400 million to bring its total funding commitment for the construction of the Maseru Hospital and Eye Clinic to M800 million.
The construction of the new health facility, which is expected to benefit at least 400 000 people in Maseru and other districts, was meant to begin last year.
China initially pledged M400 million when the two governments signed a funding agreement in December 2017, but the Asian economic giant has since resolved to double the funding commitment as part of its improved development assistance package to Lesotho.
After missing last year’s timeline for the commencement of works, the government has been under increased pressure to demolish the century-old buildings.
Mr Kabi told the media this week that the works have been delayed after the initial budget of M29 million was cut to M16 million. He said they have since written to the Ministry of Public Works requesting that they be allowed to do the work on their own.
“We asked them (Ministry of Public Works) to speak to the company which won the tender regarding the reduced budget failure of which they should allow us to take matters into our own hands by finding contractors who will do the work for the same budget,” Mr Kabi said.
“We gave the Ministry of Public Works an opportunity to speak to the contractors as we have previously worked harmoniously. Their response to our plea was that the contractors said they had been given limited time to decide whether they could work with the reduced budget or not.
“On the other hand, the Chinese people are pressuring us to finalise our issues so that they can start, and we have given them excuses for a long time now.”
Mr Kabi said they have since engaged the Ministry of Finance to give the MoH the funds for the demolition of the hospital. He said his ministry can do the work on its own by the amendment of the procurement regulations.
“For example, we are way behind the time frame which we were given by the Chinese to have demolished the building. This is one of the issues at stake and this means that we cannot go for the normal open tendering.
“We must follow due procedure, but it is also now frustrating because we are at the mercy of the Chinese who gave us the grant. The offer was given to many countries and if we are not serious, we might lose it,” Mr Kabi said.
And Mr Hlalele yesterday said when the MoH wrote to his office, it gave them seven days to negotiate with the contractors, which they said was too little.
“We never had a problem with talking to the contractors, but the seven-day time frame was just too little and it looked like we were being given an ultimatum and really that is not how government ministries are supposed to work,” Mr Hlalele said.