Given news reports highlighting not insignificant rents paid by the State to the family of the Attorney General, our country is in dire need of a comprehensive review of all State rentals to determine whether renting is a priority at this time and whether it represents “the best value for money” given our difficult financial situation.
After paying millions in rent to various landlords, sometimes way in excess of the actual value of the properties, the State has no ownership value in the assets when leases end.
For years under this Keith Rowley led regime we have been told that costs need to be cut and expenditures streamlined. Yet, according to information published in the media, “the most expensive rentals to the State are One Alexandra Place at $600,000 per month and 3 Alexandra Street, at $575,000”.
Who did the negotiations on behalf of the Government, and could those negotiations not have resulted in reduced payments given the number of properties?
In addition to these, two other properties are being rented from the favoured family. One at $356,000 monthly and another St Vincent Street property at $159,000 monthly.
While it may be legal and above board for the AG’s family to rent these properties to the State and collect $1.7 million monthly, this transaction causes great concern. The optics are bad. It plays into false narratives that governments waste taxpayer monies and that politicians are primarily concerned with self-enrichment.
Most MPs, if they were senior ministers would be hard-pressed to have a proposal presented to Cabinet in which the State was being asked to rent a property owned by their family at $575,000 per month.
Not when the population is being asked to “hold strain”.
One would consider whether recusal, legal as it may be when the decision is being made to rent or not, is sufficient to quiet the concerns of the population.
The Government must weigh the lease/rental vs purchase option to see which is better for the country in the long run.
It may wish to decentralise Government departments to reduce expenditures in high cost urban areas.
It should review the allocation of space to various ministries to see whether better space planning in existing State-owned facilities would lead to less cost.
The approximately $60 million paid to one family alone in the past three years pales in comparison to the $126,000 allocated in fiscal 2020 for the Scouting Movement; or the $10 million owed to a contractor for the 95 per cent complete SDMS Primary School in Reform Village; or the $7 million allocated to Vision on Mission.
But such concerns appear not to worry this PNM administration.
The State has reportedly paid approximately $165 million in just under ten years for #1 Alexandra Place. That money could have been injected into programmes such as Cadets, 4-H clubs, Vision on Mission, MiLat, Mypart and Scouts to help stem the pipeline of crime.
It could have fixed the thousands of potholes and landslips in Naparima.
It could have ensured the appropriate measures would be put in place to mitigate flooding during the rainy season.
It could have guaranteed that all schools would be repaired and ready to open for the new school term.
It could have helped to build another desalination plant considering the thousands of households that still complain of water shortages.
The list can go on.
This Government that has no plan, no vision and no mission to take us forward