KUCHING, Dec 17 — The groundbreaking ceremony for the long-delayed Lawas Hospital project in Sarawak will be held this Saturday, 23 years after it was first promised, according to Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.
The controversial project, located in a small town near Brunei and more than 1,200 km from the state capital of Kuching, has been branded by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration’s Ministries of Health and Works as a “sick” one.
It was supposed to start construction in 2011 and slated for completion in 2016, but will only start work this year, and be completed by 2023, following re-tendering of the project’s contract.
Dr Yii said Works Minister Baru Bian, who hails from rural Sarawak, will be attending the groundbreaking ceremony, adding that he hopes the project will get off without a hitch.
“Hopefully, it will start as soon as possible, but please monitor (the Lawas Hospital project) because based on history, we know ‘pecah tanah’ (groundbreaking) means nothing,” the DAP lawmaker said to laughter.
Dr Yii was speaking at a conference titled, “Healthcare in East Malaysia: Ensuring that no one is left behind”, that was organised by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy on Saturday.
There is currently only a small government hospital in Lawas, with a 46-bed capacity. The non-specialist district hospital caters to over 35,000 villagers from as far as Ba’kelalan near the Indonesian border. Patients who require specialists are referred to other government hospitals in the state and in nearby Sabah.
In 1996, under the 7th Malaysia Plan, a new Lawas Hospital was promised for the district. However, construction never materialised, save for foundation works in 2012. Foundation work stopped in 2013.
Last September, shortly after PH wrested federal power, a tender for construction for the new district hospital was announced.
Agnes Padan, a rural health care advocate who previously sued the Lawas district hospital for negligence over the death of her mother, asked at the conference what happened to the 2012 allocation for construction work at the hospital.
She also questioned why the new government seemed to lack urgency in fulfilling its word to build the hospital.
Agnes said as of December 14, she saw no signs of construction of the hospital starting anytime soon, but pointed out that Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad told her previously that work would start by year-end.
“He came (and) visited Lawas Hospital a few months… after I handed over (a) petition to Dr Dzul in Parliament,” she said, referring to a petition that saw 5,000 over signatures calling for a new government hospital in Lawas and equal maternal rights in Sarawak.
“He promised to start construction in November. (But) we don’t see anything going on, until now.”
Baru, who is also a distant cousin of Agnes, has since pledged to complete work on the long-delayed hospital project as well as two others in Miri and Petra Jaya, in line with the government’s pledge to revamp health care in East Malaysia.
He previously said the invitation to re-tender for the Lawas Hospital would be called on February 15 this year, with the tender documents going for sale on March 4. The tender documents for the Petra Jaya Hospital, on the other hand, was available for purchase on February 25.
Baru and Agnes hail from the same Lun Bawang settlement in Long Semadoh, Ba’kelalan, the state constituency the Sarawak PKR chief represents. Baru is also Selangau MP.
In 2002, Agnes’ mother, Kam Agong, died of bleeding a month after giving birth by C-section at the Lawas district hospital. It was the health facility closest to Long Semadoh and five hours away by road. The hospital, at the time, lacked specialists, alleged Agnes and her husband, Lawrence Jayaraj.
They were later awarded RM60,000 in compensation by a court in Miri.
Dr Yii, meanwhile, said the Petra Jaya Hospital, some 12km north of Kuching town, has been retendered and will only start work in the middle of next year, which he said infuriated him.
He attributed the delay to what he branded as discrepancies in the tender system, adding that the re-tendering was done as the government is committed to weeding out unwanted practices.
“We may have changed leadership, but a lot of the system… still (has) to (be) changed,” the DAP lawmaker explained, and said he understood why the delay was necessary.
The Petra Jaya Hospital should have been completed by November 29, 2016, but only 34.54 per cent of the project was completed by last year June. The delay caused overcrowding at Sarawak General Hospital, and Cabinet has agreed to terminate the contract of the main contractor building the hospital.
Dr Yii also said a new government health clinic will be built in Kuching, with the groundbreaking ceremony slated for January next year.
He added that a number of old clinics in Sarawak will be upgraded.