Dead raised again

AFTER decades of announcements and millions of dollars in allocations which petered out to nothing, another Administration is yet again attempting to breathe life into shelved plans to construct a public morgue.

A planned $555.9 million spend and two years should see the long-awaited Forensic Pathology Autopsy Suite gracing Jamaica’s capital a stone’s throw from Kingston Public Hospital, the island’s premier trauma centre, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government announced yesterday.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams, making the disclosure during a virtual post-Cabinet press briefing, said the executive had given approval for construction of the morgue to be included in the public sector investment programme.

She said approval was also given for the provision of fiscal support.

Williams said the lack of an autopsy suite has resulted in several issues over the years, chief of which was the cost of outsourcing the services to privately operated funeral homes. Williams said over the past five years alone it has cost the Government $482 million for the storage of bodies.

The island has not had a national morgue since the 1970s. The Edward Seaga-led JLP Government was advanced in planning the construction of a new morgue when it lost the 1989 General Election. Successive administrations have since mooted the construction of a modern facility, especially with renewed fervour following the 2007 shock death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer while the island hosted the International Cricket Council World Cup, sparking an investigation that unveiled inadequacies on several levels.

That year, then National Security Minister under the People’s National Party Government Dr Peter Phillips said the Woolmer investigation “brought into focus the need for the most up-to-date forensic capabilities possible, including, most importantly, the construction of a new public morgue”.

The PNP Government, however, lost the September 2007 General Election to the JLP and with it the plans to allocate $80 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art morgue.

In 2008, nearly $1 billion worth of national security contracts, including almost $1/2 billion to complete the long-awaited public morgue were approved by the National Contracts Commission (NCC).

The Office of the Contractor General, in a news release issued at the time, said $425.6 million had been approved for the construction of the morgue at 149 Orange Street, downtown Kingston. That contract was awarded to Tank-Weld Metals, and expectations were that the building would be completed by the end of 2009.

Fast-forward to 2018 and then National Security Minister Robert Montague announced that the ministry was moving quickly on plans for the construction of an autopsy suite in Kingston. According to Montague, the ministry already has the lands for the facility and was “hopeful to have the approval processes completed with the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation and other agencies soon”.

“We… want to move very quickly on that, so that we can use that as a basis to begin to build out a public morgue,” he said then.

A year later, current Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang said a state-of-the-art autopsy suite, to be constructed soon, would facilitate the efficient and effective operations of local forensic pathologists. He said construction was slated to begin during that fiscal year (2019/20) and had been budgeted to cost $200 million.

During a tour of the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine (IFSLM) in Kingston at the time, Dr Chang said the suite should impact the IFSLM’s international standing.

“The vision of the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine is to become the leading forensic laboratory in Latin America and the Caribbean region,” he said.

In February this year, the Government indicated that it had budgeted $309 million for the construction of the forensic pathology autopsy suite, saying it was anticipated that 40 per cent of construction activities will be completed for the fiscal year 2021/22. It said the project, which is being financed from the consolidated fund, was slated to commence April 2021 and is projected to end in March 2023.

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