Approximately $20 million will be spent to customise and outfit the #3 Alexandra building to house the Chief Personnel Department, says Public Administration Minister Allyson Lewis.
The building is owned by Zaman Enterprises Ltd, which is affiliated to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s family and rented for $575,000 a month.
During the Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee yesterday Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein said there was an expenditure of $1.2 million in 2019, $4.8 million in 2020 and $2 million for 2021 for the customisation and outfitting of the building at #3 Alexandra in St Clair.
Lewis, in response to Hosein’s questions, said the outfitting of the building started when they got possession of the property in June 2019.
“What’s the total estimated cost for the outfitting and customisation and this building?” asked Hosein.
Lewis replied: “About $20 million, I’m advised.”
“So in addition to the roughly $7 million rent every year, we have to now incur a bill of $20 million to outfit and customise this building?” said Hosein.
Lewis said this was not unusual as the building would not have come with work stations and accommodation for the furniture for conference rooms required.
“It is usually quite a bit of change to outfit a building,” she said.
Hosein asked if the State was getting value for money for this building.
Lewis said in determining if the building was appropriate Government got a valuation from the Commissioner of Valuations and also looked at comparative buildings and the rents that are paid by Government and private sector.
She said in all circumstances the rental was considered “more than reasonable”.
“So in about three years the taxpayers have to incur a bill of about $43 million for the occupation of this building,” said Hosein.
Empty building for three years
Finance Minister Colm Imbert said in standard practice when the Government agrees to rent the building, the building comes quite often as a shell, sometimes with rudimentary fittings and fixtures.
He recalled that when he was appointed Finance Minister in September 2015 he discovered that the previous UNC government had rented a building “ironically” for the Chief Personnel Officer’s accommodation and paid the rent for three years for a building that was not outfitted.
“The building just stood there empty for three years. That is the legacy of the UNC government,” he said.
Imbert said the Cabinet had taken a decision to move courts to the International Waterfront Centre building, where the Parliament used to be and the cost of outfitting those facilities was twice the amount of outfitting 3 Alexandra.
“So that it is normal, at least this Government when we outfit a building we use it, we don’t leave it there and pay rent for years and years in the millions of dollars for buildings that are never occupied,” he said.