SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, July 15) - Construction on the largest project ever undertaken in French Polynesia, a US$200 million hospital in the suburban town of Pirae, is set to resume shortly.

The Taaone hospital project was initially conducted by French building giant Bouygues, but two months ago French Polynesia and the company agreed to disagree on the project: they formalized what was perceived as a "divorce" on a project that had come to a standstill in November last year.

In the process, French Polynesia's President Flosse agreed to pay Bouygues CPF1.1 billion French Pacific Francs (around US$1 million) to Bouygues for work already performed.

Last month, on June 10, an administrative court in Paris gave the final green light to the project's resumption: it endorsed the "divorce" between Bouygues and the French territory.

The territory's cabinet also said last week that the new entity to supervise the project would be France's public body, the "Etablissement public des grands travaux (EGT, authority for large public works).

It is now empowered to designate a new contractor for the new hospital construction.

Three years ago, Flosse's government announced Bouygues was the selected builder for the new hospital.

It was then described as the biggest project undertaken in French Polynesia in decades.

Under the cancellation deal, Bouygues also accepted that the architect who designed the hospital could now be released and work for another company, when it is identified and takes over the unfinished business.

In April this year, Bouygues announced it was pulling out, saying it had "had enough".

The Taaone-Pirae project, in its initial form, features a five-storey building with 562 beds and a 1,200-car parking facility.

Upon completion of the new building, the existing Centre Hospitalier Territorial (CHT) Mamao would be de-commissioned and demolished.

Flosse earlier said the funding would come from the assistance promised by France after dismantling its nuclear testing facility.

"The territory will foot the rest", Flosse said.

But the sharing of the costs has since marred the project and discrepancies between the initial forecasts and the actual costs of the project (an increase of some thirty per cent) have further deteriorated relationship between the territorial government and Bouygues, despite numerous attempts to iron out the differences.

The row culminated end of last year, when legal action was launched against Bouygues for the sacking of some 140 construction workers employed on the hospital project. The sackings had triggered roadblocks at the capital Pape'ete's two main entrances. CSTP-FO Unions also set up pickets and held Bouygues management and foremen.

July 16, 2003

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