Millions on empty office buildings

Auditor General’s report laid in Parliament

Gail Alexander
Wednesday, May 4 2016 –

One AlexandraSeveral million was paid by various People’s Partnership government ministries in rent for certain unoccupied buildings over 2014 to 2015, including large sums for a St Clair property leased by the past People’s National Movement administration which the PP continued to pay for, according to the Auditor General’s latest report.

The Auditor General’s report for October 2014 to September 2015 was laid in Parliament yesterday, along with the Public Accounts of T&T for 2015.

The report revealed …numerous instances at various ministries /departments where financial regulations and instructions “continue to be disregarded.”

Findings included “examples of weaknesses in the system of internal control and non-compliance with legislative requirements and/or financial directives.” Concerns were also raised about lack of proper maintenance of records.

“The state of the Internal Audit function in ministries and departments remains a matter of grave concern as in prior years,” Auditor General Majeed Ali stated.

On rented properties which remained unoccupied, the report stated that a total of $47, 813,544.78 cents was paid for the period 2009 to 2015 for rental of the Alexandra Street, St Clair, building.

That cost and period encompass from the 2009 tenure of the previous PNM administration, when the building was rented, to 2015 when it was categorised under the ministry which was known as the Ministry of the People and Social Development under the past PP administration.

The report stated that Cabinet in 2009 agreed to the lease/rental of office space in a building located on Alexandra Street to accommodate the Local Government Ministry.

Approvals were later seen for the outfitting of the building. Information received revealed that the lease was transferred to the Housing and Urban Development Ministry (effective August 1, 2014) and then to the Ministry of the People and Social Development (effective May 19, 2015).

The report stated the building remained unoccupied from inception of the lease in December 2009. No new payments were made after June 2015.

Payments on the lease comprised the Local Government Ministry’s payment of $40,223,544.78 cents (December 1, 2009 to July 31, 2014). The Housing Ministry also paid $6.9 million (August 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015) and the Property and Real Estate Division paying $690,000 (June 1-30 2015).

The report also stated the Attorney General’s office leased a building on Pembroke Street, Port-of-Spain, in June 2012 at a monthly rental of $115,000 and it remained unoccupied until March of this year. The report stated amounts totalling $4.3 million were spent on outfitting the building. Total rental of $4.4 million was paid from the inception to September 30, 2015.

It was also noted that the Public Administration Ministry paid total rent of $5.3 million over May 2012 to September 2015 for unoccupied premises on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain.

Rental was discontinued last month. The report noted the situation contravened instructions to eliminate non-essential services and to use “public funds to the best advantage.”

The Gender Affairs Ministry also paid total rent of $514,146.60 over January 2015 to September 2015 for unoccupied premises at Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. The rental is said to be ongoing.

Rent totalling $525, 718.33 was also paid for unoccupied premises on High Street, Siparia, over June 2014 to September 2015. Rental continued to December 2015, after which the agreement was discontinued due to lack of an elevator.

The Energy Ministry also paid total rent of $851,999 over December 2014 to September 2015 for unoccupied premises in La Romaine, reportedly waiting to be outfitted.

The report noted that the $275 million head office for a Motor Vehicle Authority at Caroni Settlement has been completed and keys for the facility are ready for handover to the Transport Ministry.

However, the legislation to establish the authority has lapsed with the last Parliament term and that building remains also unoccupied.

On another matter, the report noted that vouchers to support two transfers totalling $396,900,677.00 and schedule of accounts recording two other transfers, totalling $101,307,055.73 to the Tobago House of Assembly, were not produced for audit.

The report also noted construction of the Education Ministry’s $8 million Southern Academy Early Childhood Centre was stopped in May 2015 after a 20 per cent advance payment of $1.6 million was made to the contractor of the project.

It was noted that a Memorandum of Understanding with the executing agency, the Education Facilities Company, was not produced. The project was stopped reportedly due to “stakeholder related” matters. The ministry indicated on April 4 that the project was temporarily on hold.

Major weaknesses were noted in the system of the Ministry of the People’s senior citizens’ grant. A total of 1,089 overpayments, valued at $8.2 million, were found.

A sample of overpayments at the Caroni Local Board revealed four overpayments totalling $441,125.25 occurred, as people were issued with two file numbers and received two sets of payments.

Arrangements to receive timely information on deaths from the Registrar General to minimise overpayments have not “been realised,” it noted.

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3 thoughts on “Millions on empty office buildings”

  1. Those were the “air-tight” legal binding agreement signed days before the 2010 election to ensure the money keeps flowing into the PNM coffers.

    1. Mamoo, if I were to be asked to suggest a first name for you before ending with Mamoo, I would have a hard time distinguishing which name I should give you from many famous ones like Harridath Kamla Pundit Anand Bhoe Suruj Basdeo
      Leladharsingh Bhadase or Sat. They are all befitting you and one would never notice the difference.

  2. When it is not your money spending and you have no morals or ethics or even have poor attitude towards citizens in general and a freeness is your deal, then you as just a human being like any other who does not really care how you spend that money all of it. You could be the President or the street cleaner it does not change things. This is why a proper serving government has checks and balances in place to protect the tax payer and his revenue to the state.

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