Saturday, February 24, 2018

Govt paying $37m rent for empty building


telling it: Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray makes her contribution at yesterday’s sitting of the Lower House in Port of Spain. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY

Mark Fraser

Government has been paying tens of millions—somewhere between over $28 million to $37 million—for an unoccupied building.

Since 2010, Government has been paying the hefty sum of $8.2 million annually for renting a building located at 1 Alexandra Street, which it has never occupied. In addition to this, Government has been paying $927,360 per year for security.

Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray in the House of Representatives yesterday stated Government pays a monthly rent of $690,000, which adds up to $8.2 million a year for the building. This has been paid since October 2010.

“This sum was paid for the financial years ended September 2011, September 2012 and September 2013,” she said.

The minister stressed the rental started on this building in 2009. If one includes rental payment and security for the year 2009, it means the taxpayer has paid around $37 million in total.

The rent has been paid to NJ Nahous while the security fees have been paid to Professional Protection Training Services, Coudray said.

Coudray was responding to the question filed by Arouca/Maloney MP Alicia Hospedales which asked her to state whether any buildings were being rented by the Ministry of Local Government which were not being utilised and the money paid in relation to such building since 2010 to the present.

Coudray gave figures which she said were from October 2010 but she pointed out that the rental “started on this building in the year 2009”.

Asked by Hospedales why the facility has not been utilised for the last four years, Coudray said: “Mr Speaker, this question is a new one and I would need to check the records to determine.”

The building was originally earmarked for the Ministry of Local Government at the time when Hazel Manning was the minister. The rental contract was signed under the People’s National Movement government which lost the 2010 election shortly afterward.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday described the issue as “ a big scandal”, saying the key issue was why has the Government left this building empty for four years.

“So because the PNM rented the building, whether they liked the rate or not, they refused to occupy the building and has been paying for an empty building,” he said.

Rowley said the issue which this Government had was not the building, but the outfitting of it. The tenant has to outfit the building to suit itself, he said.

Rowley claimed Government wanted to give the contract to outfit the building to a preferred bidder. “And when the public servants would not agree to it, they refused to outfit the building,” Rowley said.

“So here it is, a building that the Government is renting at a humongous price is left under-utilised because the outfitting did not go to a favoured person and they decide to leave it unoccupied,” the Opposition Leader said.

“The building is being paid for and is lying empty, collecting spiders and all because they could not award the contract to their selected contractor,” he claimed.

Former minister, Jack Warner, during a debate had said Nidco in 2009 had wanted to move into the building and had paid a 10 per cent downpayment in March 2009 of $334,000 to Faris Al-Rawi (in his capacity as a attorney for the owner). However, the money was returned because the Ministry of Local Government was to be allotted the building, Warner said.