Govt locked into $500,000 a year lease for agency
Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister revealed yesterday that the former government entered into a seven-year agreement, totaling over $500,000 a year, to lease the Penn’s Builders Square compound to house a government agency that performs many of the same statutory functions as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
During his contribution to debate on a resolution thanking the governor general for the Speech from the Throne, Bannister said the Christie administration created the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit (NRRU) in 2015 in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin.
The unit, he said, was intended to strengthen capacity in national recovery efforts by way of damage assessments and reconstruction.
The NRRU was originally situated in the Office of the Prime Minister until a site was located for its headquarters, Bannister said.
“I must express my concern that the former administration entered into a seven-year agreement to lease the Penn’s Builders Square compound at a monthly rent of $46,892.40, which totals $562,708.80 per year,” he said.
“This was not a prudent decision. On top of that, the government had to pay a security deposit of $43,620.84 as well as first and last month’s rent.
“I can’t imagine the government entering into this type of arrangement. Sadly, there does not appear to be a way out of this lease.”
Bannister said the lease was signed sometime in 2015.
“This unit was actually created as an extension of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and its objective at the time was to permit NEMA to concentrate its efforts on its mandate, which was to prepare Bahamians for threatening weather systems and to execute its duties consistent with the provisions of the Disaster Act,” he said.
“While on the face of it these activities appear laudable, one of the predominant challenges resulting from the operation of this unit was that it was performing a number of functions that NEMA was legally mandated to do.”
Bannister said it is “irrefutable that the functioning of the NRRU has to undergo change, particularly as it relates to ensuring that those persons who are truly in need are the beneficiary of the assistance that it provides”.
The NRRU was transferred to the Ministry of Public Works with effect from September 1, 2017, he said.
“However, it will remain located in its present accommodations at Penn’s Builders Square, since we have to honor this very expensive lease,” he said.
Hurricane relief fund
Bannister further revealed that the government intends to establish a fund totaling $10 million, which will be budgeted for repairs with respect to hurricane relief.
He explained that the government’s current policy with respect to assisting homeowners with rebuilding after storms is simply not sustainable.
The Carmichael MP said the government is not in a financial position to construct so many homes as it would take an inordinate amount of time, even with the assistance of the private sector.
“Therefore, the government has decided to appropriate a fund totaling $10 million which will be budgeted for repairs with respect to hurricane relief,” he said.
“Since we are undoubtedly a government of openness and transparency, we shall ensure that every cent is accounted for, and that nothing is wasted.”
He added, “We realize that there will be concerns about the adequacy of the $10 million allocated for this fund; however, we intend to work assiduously to ensure that the glitches relative to its administration are resolved.”