Thursday, December 14, 2017

Laquis: It’s a good deal

Govt buys Eastern Correctional Rehabilation Centre

At $230 million, Government is getting a “good deal” with the purchase of the facility which houses the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre (ECRC) in Santa Rosa.

According to one of the shareholders, Dr George Laquis, Government is actually saving $45 million.

The State is currently renting the property from a company called Wala Wala Ltd, at an agreed monthly rent—which commenced on September 1, 2011—of $850,000 plus VAT.

Wala Wala is owned by Laquis and several of his relatives.

On August 18, Justice Minister Emmanuel George said Government was looking at acquiring the property for “approximately $230 million”.

The ECRC was rented by the Government in 2011 to house detainees held during the State of Emergency that year and has since been assigned for the detention of prisoners whose prison terms are close to an end.

In addition to the monthly rent, the Government has spent close to $50 million in upgrading and refurbishment works.

Responding to questions from the Sunday Express on Thursday morning, Laquis said after speaking with the shareholders who are affiliated with Lucky’s Holding Ltd and Coco Holdings Limited, a decision was made to sell the land to Government.

The freehold land, said Laquis, was bought from Courts some years ago by a group of shareholders, including Laquis.

Laquis said that following the purchase, the land was leased to the retail furniture chain for close to $1 million a month.

A building was erected and constructed specifically for Courts with specific requirements for the company’s warehouse.

“(Courts) designed it and we built it for them,” Laquis said.

He said two original businesses were built and then a new building was constructed for Courts.

Saying that Courts is a tenant, Laquis said the leases entered into are long term.

“When Government took the area which housed Neal and Massy, they entered into a lease with too did Courts. I was very happy with the lease,” he said, admitting that he will be losing a very critical tenant with the sale.

“When Government took the area which housed Neal and Massy, they entered into a lease with then it is Courts and the government who are our tenants.”

Two recent valuations were conducted and the land and buildings carry a value of $295 million, Laquis said.

“As far as I am concerned, it is a concession. I am no hero, I made the concession because (Government) occupies a part of it, they spent a lot of money on it,” he said.

Laquis explained that prior to the sale, he had plans to construct a merchandise market on the property.

“We were going to leave Courts there. Courts pays us almost $1 million a month and they have been doing so for about ten years.”

Adding that the Santa Rosa property is “very lucrative”, Laquis said: “I have a property that is pushing out cash. That cash allows me to do other real estate development, I have what is called a cash cow. I am giving up the cash cow and now taking this money and finding ways to invest it to bring me back a return,” he said.

Saying he has been in talks with the Government since it started leasing the property, Laquis said soon after, Government made an offer, which was only recently finalised.

“This (negotiations) have been going on since they took over the place, within months. They made us that offer a while ago. The deal is done, I cannot back out now,” he said.

On October 3, 2011, the detention centre in Santa Rosa, Arima, (built to house people held during the State of Emergency) opened with 62 prisoners being transferred to the facility.

The new facility, located opposite the entrance to the Santa Rosa Heights housing development, can hold up to 1,000 prisoners and was transformed from an abandoned  Neal and Massy car assembly plant.

During the initial stages of the State of Emergency, activists voiced concern over the integration of “hardcore criminals” with State of Emergency detainees and called for a facility to be used to keep the two apart. 

The new Centre was said to be that facility.

Each cell has its own toilet facilities and a sink, the Sunday Express was told, with a visiting room for communication between visitors and inmates.

Former national security minister John Sandy had said a decision was taken in principle and later by contract on August 29, 2011, for rental of the property by the National Security Ministry.

 On September 2, 2011, the facility was appointed as a district prison.

Although this facility was considered the best site to house prisoners, on October 17, 2011, the facility had to be vacated to facilitate urgent repairs to the roof.