Minister noncommittal on tabling mall lease

Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells would not say yesterday if the government will make public the lease agreement it signed with the owners of the Town Centre Mall to house the General Post Office.

A resolution was passed in the House of Assembly last year to enter into a lease agreement with the owners of the mall. St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette and his brother own the property.

The government formally signed the lease on July 12 and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis has called on the administration to make it public.

When asked outside Cabinet if this would happen, Wells said, “You know what I found interesting in my absence?

“All of these things that were being discussed in the papers and amongst you reporters, it was being discussed as if all of a sudden these issues were new.

“Everything that was spoken to in the press was spoken to in the House of Assembly. The resolution was put forward. Transparency was given to the Bahamian people. It was debated. Reports were laid. People had their say and there was a vote and we moved.

“But yet still we’ve come back in this era to try and adjudicate something that was already adjudicated in the high court of Parliament.

“Ain’t nobody was ducking under no rock hiding nothing. It was there for all the Bahamian people to see, for people to ask questions, for the opposition to debate, for them to lay documents. And we spoke to the issue.

“My statement is going to end there because when you speak about transparency, what could be more transparent?”

Pressed on whether the government would table the lease, a visibly frustrated Wells responded, “We signed the lease.

“What else is out there to be known other than we told you all how much we were paying for it? $12 per square foot. It’s 56,000 square feet. The resolution gives us the opportunity to get up to 75,000.”

Asked again if the government will table the lease, Wells said, “That’s a discussion that has to be taken at another level and then we would be able to get back with you.

“But like I said, the process has been transparent.

“I don’t see any issue as to why it is we’re back adjudicating the process. As I said from the beginning, we were transparent and we still are.”

The matter surrounding the post office was reignited following Symonette’s resignation from Cabinet – which he has said is unconnected to the matter – and revelations that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis called him directly to discuss the government’s plan to rent the space.

Wells was also asked about a report prepared by McACE Technical Services Ltd., a company that was asked to assess the Phil’s Food Services building, which was at one time being considered as a location for the post office.

The report, dated September 7, 2018 and prepared for the Ministry of Public Works, indicated no serious concerns with structural “defects” at Phil’s.

The report, tabled in Parliament on October 24 by Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, states: “Our investigations reveal that there are no structural concerns. Therefore, we have concluded that the existing structure is in no imminent danger of structural compromise and or collapse…”

According to the October resolution, the government had worked to acquire the old Phil’s Food Service building on Gladstone Road “but only recently discovered that the latent (hidden) structural defects and other technical issues would require a massive expenditure of taxpayer dollars in conducting extensive renovations to the entire building which would take at least a year or more”.

When asked about the McACE report, Wells said, “We said that it was about structural and other technical issues.

“I spoke to all of the technical issues.

“The second-floor mezzanine that was inside the Phil’s building – completely gone. No more second floor, completely gone because of structural issues. Electrical system gutted. This is not something that we hid. We spoke to this in the House of Assembly. Ain’t nothing new there.”

The opposition is considering seeking a judicial review of the resolution to lease the space, while businessman Scott Godet, who had entered into a public-private partnership with the government under the Christie administration for the creation of a new building to house the post office, is suing the government for violating that agreement, according to Damian Gomez, QC.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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