Statement on the rental of the building at No. 3 Alexandra Street
Madame Speaker, I am authorized by the Cabinet to make this statement.
It is well known that the negotiation and execution of all agreements for the rental of property to be occupied by the Government or Government agencies is handled by the Property and Real Estate Services Division (PRESD), in accordance with established policy and procedures.
Earlier this week, a number of allegations surfaced in the public domain, to the effect that the Attorney General had a material conflict between his private interests and his public duty and had used his public office to improperly procure the rental by the Government of the property at No. 3 Alexandra Street, St. Clair.
Madame Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth as the following facts will reveal.
In fact, contrary to allegations in the public domain, at all material times the Attorney General declared his interest in the property at No.3 Alexandra Street, St. Clair, and recused himself from all deliberations and decisions made on the rental of this property, whether in Cabinet or in subcommittees of the Cabinet.
Further, throughout the negotiations for the rental of this property the annual returns and other relevant documents regarding the directors and shareholders of the company that owns the property were filed at the Companies Registry and made available to the PRESD
By way of explanation the following well established procedures apply to the rental of properties by the Government Ministries, Departments or Agencies:
In the first instance, the ministry, department or agency that requires accommodation submits a request to the PRESD with details of its user and space requirements.
An assessment is then done of the floor area and building characteristics that are required and a search begins for a suitable property. Suitable properties are identified either by the PRESD or by the ministry, department or agency itself.
Once suitable properties are identified, the PRESD seeks to secure satisfactory technical reports from statutory agencies or persons involved in the inspection, certification and approval of office buildings, in addition to other important documents, such the title deed, tax clearance certificate and annual returns.
Specifically, with respect to the rental of the building at No. 3 Alexandra Street, St. Clair, and contrary to the allegations in the public domain, firm expressions of interest in the rental by Government of this property date back to 10 years ago, as follows:
(1) On January 14, 2009, PRESD wrote to Mr. Faris Al Rawi of Zaman Enterprises offering to rent the property
(2) On January 20, 2012, under the former UNC Government, the Ministry of Housing, Environment, which was responsible for the rental of properties by Government at the time, wrote to Mrs. Mona Nahous of Zaman Enterprises enquiring about the availability of the same building. This letter was copied to Dr. Roodal Moonilal, the then Minister of Housing and the Environment and to the Director of Personnel Administration.
(3) On October 9, 2017, the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development expressed its interest in the same property
In December 2018, the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development withdrew its interest in the rental of the property.
However, as early as April 2018, the Personnel Department had indicated their desire in leasing the same property to accommodate its Head Office and other Divisions. This interest was subsequently reconfirmed by the CPO on December 27, 2018, when it became known that the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development was no longer pursuing the rental of the property
Accordingly, a Note was submitted to Cabinet by the Minister of Public Administration on February 07, 2019 with respect to the rental of the property for the use of the Personnel Department. The rental was subsequently approved and then confirmed by Cabinet on February 14, 2019.
Madame Speaker, it has also been alleged that the rental of the property does not represent value for money.
However, the property is a brand new A Class office building with modern amenities such as a standby generator, storage facilities, 2 thirteen passenger elevators and 89 covered car park spaces.
Further, the rental of the property will allow the Personnel Department to consolidate its current operations under one roof, which are currently scattered across several locations.
The agreed rental rate of $575,000 per month is also below the fair market value rental rate, which was determined by the Commissioner of Valuations to be $640,000 per month, and below an independent valuation from Linden Scott and Associates, who recommended a rental of $600,000 per month.
Additionally, in an effort to save taxpayers from unnecessary expense, the landlord has given the Personnel Department three (3) months’ rent free occupation, to facilitate the fitting out of the building. This has set a new precedent as to how this Government conducts its business.
It is noteworthy that the rental and other occupational cost for the various locations, (including state owned premises at Tower D) currently occupied by the Personnel Department is in excess of $900,000.
Finally, Madame Speaker, it would be remiss of me not to make the point that over the last 30 years, the Government has on many occasions rented properties owned by Cabinet Ministers or their relatives.
For example, in December 2010, the UNC Government rented property to accommodate the Ministry of National Security from DW Holdings Limited which is owned by the son of Jack Warner who at the time was a Minister in the UNC Government. Further, prior to the 2015 Election, the NLCB rented property from the children of Jerry Hadeed, a Minister in the UNC Government. There are several other examples of this practice under all Governments over the years.
I trust, Madame Speaker, that the foregoing has cleared the air on this matter and put to the rest the false allegations currently in the public domain.