Disclosures in Parliament that, going on five years, the State has been paying tens of millions to rent an unoccupied Port of Spain building have highlighted the disproportionate returns on a decade of heavy investment in office accommodation.
Results of this investment show in the (unfinished) high-rise buildings that describe the Port of Spain skyline. The shell structures represent a legacy of the Patrick Manning administration’s policy which required the capital to look the part of a developed-country metropolis.
Until it came to grief in 2010, that administration had access to the money to give effect to its ambitions, and also an executing agency in UDeCOTT, then led by Calder Hart. Trumpeting its high sense of purpose, UDeCOTT promoted the “Government Campus Plaza”, comprising “state-of-the-art offices…flanked by retail shopping, parking and a public plaza”.
The Board of Inland Revenue; Ministries of Social Development, Legal Affairs and Education; plus Customs and Excise were among agencies to be rehoused in upgraded accommodations, rising ten to 23 storeys high, of the “Government Campus”.
Economic and political changes, following swiftly upon one another between 2008 and 2010, stopped realisation of the Manning/UDeCOTT vision and mission.
Since it could not erect enough buildings, fast enough, the then government rented One Alexandra Place on Tragarete Road, ostensibly for relocation of the Local Government Ministry. By 2010, implementation of the progressive idea to install public officers in settings more conducive to productivity remained still-born.
The high costs of trying, however, remained to be paid, and paid again. The Partnership administration, having inexplicably failed to disentangle itself from One Alexandra Place contract obligations, will hereafter pay the political price for the sheer waste of public funds at that address.
Nor is Alexandra Street the only Port of Spain location at which this Government has simply been paying for nothing. As an Afra Raymond Business Express commentary last week reminded T&T, the “Government Campus” buildings, though unready for occupation, incur high costs just for standing there.
Meanwhile, the State pays big public money to rent office space, enriching developers and security firms, with no discernible public benefit. The Partnership administration, actively pursuing decentralisation, has relocated State offices to south and central Trinidad.
So far, only the three completed Waterfront buildings have attracted official accommodation, including temporary transfer of the Parliament from a Red House endlessly under renovation.
The rest remain unhappy, unfinished public business, unoccupied and ignored, crying out for imaginative solution by policy planners, and others concerned to prevent more good money being thrown after bad. To continue the policy planning standstill about the use of such massive public assets is to swallow ever-rising costs, with no hope of accruing benefits from the outsize State-fund investments that the incomplete and unused high rises represent.