Former Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette yesterday dismissed concerns surrounding a conversation he said he had with the prime minister about renting the Town Centre Mall as a ‘red herring’ and suggested he has nothing more to say about that conversation, while insisting he has been nothing but truthful and transparent about the matter.
Asked if he regrets agreeing to rent the Town Centre Mall to the government given the storm of controversy that has erupted, Symonette said no answer he gives is likely to satisfy his critics.
“If I say I don’t then someone will say I’m smug,” he said.
“…The real issue was the post office was in a terrible state of habitation. John Pinder and his union were protesting. The people there were not working nine to five. The mail wasn’t getting delivered.
“They’re now in a place with a healthy environment. I don’t know what else to say. Hopefully, it’s a better working environment for the staff. I would have thought so. Hopefully, people are getting their mail. I would have thought so. Hopefully, it’s a better situation.”
Symonette, who co-owns the property with his brother, said he is tired of speaking on the issue because he has already spoken his truth and is ready to stand on a stack of Bibles in Rawson Square.
“That’s the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” he said.
The matter surrounding the post office is once again dominating headlines, following Symonette’s resignation from Cabinet and revelations that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis called him directly to discuss the government’s plan to rent the space.
He, however, refused to address the latter yesterday, noting that he has said all he needs to on it.
On Sunday, former Attorney General Alfred Sears suggested that given this new information, there could be legal grounds to declare null and void the government’s resolution to enter into that lease, and to have the St. Anne’s MP vacate his seat in the House of Assembly.
Symonette declared his interest in the property a week after the resolution was tabled in Parliament.
Sears questioned whether that disclosure should have taken place before the resolution was tabled. He also said the information about the call between Minnis and Symonette raises the question of whether the House was misled given the language of the resolution.
“My interest in Town Centre Mall has been known for years,” Symonette asserted.
“It’s not a state secret. You guys have commented on it before in the press. So, my interest has always been declared for the last 30 years. So, I see no comment about this red herring. Even the resolution itself says I am an owner in the mall; right on the face of the very resolution, if Mr. Sears would choose to read it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have brought it to the House of Assembly.”
Symonette also said the government’s five-year lease for the relocation of the General Post Office to the Town Centre Mall was signed last week Friday, nearly two months after the official opening of the location.
“Most times when government rents a building, it takes a while before the lease physically gets done between the landlord and the tenant working it out,” Symonette told The Nassau Guardian.
“There was a need for getting this building built. The resolution in the House of Assembly said 70,000 square feet at $12 a square foot, subject to the normal leases, and that’s what we went on. The building was designed according to negotiations between the management of Town Centre Mall and whoever the post office or Ministry of Works [representative] was.”
The resolution to lease the space was passed in Parliament on October 24, 2018. At the time, it was reported that the lease would cost around $900,000 per year.
But Symonette explained yesterday that the cost to rent the facility decreased by nearly $200,000 because the government is leasing less space than was quoted in the resolution – a change that was made during the construction of the post office area.
“The resolution that went to the House of Assembly was 70,000 square feet,” he said.
“That was the figure that the PLP left behind in plans that they were working on at that time.
“The square footage has since diminished, say 56,000/57,000. I can’t remember off the top of my head.
“So, obviously the end number decreased but it’s still multiplied by $12.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications