The PM’s address to the nation on the evening of 29 December 2015 was an official announcement as to the need for shared sacrifice and reduced State expenditure to tackle the decline in our collective fortunes.
I also took particular note of the statement by new Central Bank Governor, Dr Alvin Hillaire, during his first meeting with the media on 31 December 2015 – “…I won’t distance myself from the recession statement. The situation is serious and demands attention…“. Dr Hillaire was of course referring to the 4 December disclosure of a recession by his predecessor, Jwala Rambarran.
The proposals for public housing to be provided by private sector investment were certainly interesting, but this column will be making additional proposals for decisive cost-savings within relatively easy reach. Low-hanging fruit, so to speak.
The State embarked upon a huge program to construct offices in Port of Spain during the pre-2010 term of the then PNM government. A staggering total of 2.3M square feet of offices were constructed by the State via its implementing Agency, UDECOTT, in that surge of construction activity. That total does not include the 1,800-space Queen Street ‘Parkade’ which spans the block between Richmond and Edward Streets (see Sidebar for details).
SIDEBAR: Port of Spain Office projects
I raised serious objections to the UDECOTT program and of course the entire exercise became a highly-charged political war which ended in the Uff Enquiry. Despite the objections raised by the JCC, Dr Keith Rowley – who has recently been elected PM – myself and others, these office projects have largely been completed. Which leads directly to my proposal.
Having completed the substantial construction of these State offices at colossal public expense, it is nothing less than a scandal that over half of those offices remain unoccupied, while huge sums are paid monthly to private landlords. Given the drastic reduction in the revenue available to the State, it is imperative that those 1.3M square feet of unused offices are occupied in the shortest possible timeframe so that the rental payments can stop.
I have never been able to get official details as to the offices rented by the State in greater POS and the amounts paid. Even if we assume that a modest average rent of $8 psf is paid to private landlords, the occupation of those 1.3M square feet of new State-owned offices would amount to an annual saving of $125M.
On Friday 18th July 2014, the then Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Dr Roodal Moonilal, made a series of important statements on these critical issues.
These extracts are from the Hansard for that sitting of the House of Representatives – I have highlighted the dates.
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
Government Campus Plaza
The Minister of Housing and Urban Development (Hon. Dr. Roodal Moonilal):
“…Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker…the Members of this House would be aware that the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Limited is responsible for the construction and fit-out of 1.3 million square feet of office space at the Government Campus Plaza, Richmond Street, Port of Spain…this is indeed an unprecedented feat in the Caribbean. I am pleased to confirm that UDeCOTT is now working to ensure completion of the Government Campus Plaza so that the much needed office space for our public officers can be finally handed over. I am pleased to announce that the entire Government Campus Plaza facility will be occupied by public officers by next year 2015. [Desk thumping]
…I would like to take this opportunity to announce the proposed delivery timelines for each of the buildings which comprise the Government Campus Plaza.
The Customs and Excise Headquarters Building:
…after an open public tender was issued inviting proposals for the fit-out of the 10-storey building, a local contractor, Exeqtech, was awarded the contract for the fit-out of the building in the sum of $76,986,905.35 VAT exclusive. I am pleased to announce that the fit-out works commenced on April 02, 2014 and are scheduled for completion on October 18, 2014. [Desk thumping]
Ministry of Legal Affairs/the Ministry of the Attorney General tower:
…pursuant to an open tender process, request for proposals was issued inviting proponents to bid for the fit-out of the Ministries’ tower. A contract for the fit-out of this 23-storey tower in the sum of TT $260,815,170 VAT exclusive was awarded to another local firm NH International. These works commenced already on June 02, 2014 and are scheduled for completion on August 31, 2015.
The Board of Inland Revenue tower:
…the advertisement of the notice inviting proposals for the fit-out of the Board of Inland Revenue tower commenced just today in the daily newspaper. There is indeed an advertisement published in today’s Newsday and will be published in the Guardian and the Express next week. The UDeCOTT has informed that this tower which is expected to accommodate the BIR is scheduled to be completed by August 28, 2015.
…we all know that these plans are never cast in stone and it is always prudent to make allowances for the unexpected. However, we are convinced that given the rigidity and the sternness of our internal processes at UDeCOTT and given the guidance we have received from external consultants, we expect that our timeline will be met…
Ministry of National Security
…I am pleased to announce that UDeCOTT already commenced regular and intense meetings with the Chief Immigration Officer with a view to finalizing a user brief as soon as possible, so that in a matter of days it will be possible to publicly invite proposals for the fit-out of the building in accordance with the requirement of the Immigration Department. UDeCOTT has given a timeline for the completion of the immigration building, by which it is proposed that the fit-out of the building will be completed by March 20, 2015.
So we are following due process. We are following an intense open tendering process for several of these buildings and we intend, when we contract with those persons due to undertake the outfitting, that work will commence and there will be no delays and no cost overrun or variation…”
No details were given for the 274,000 sf Ministry of Education tower on St Vincent St, but that would obviously have to form part of the program to complete these offices. We now need an urgent status report as to the readiness for occupation of these State-owned offices, so that we can begin to conserve falling revenues.