Baron’s bargain: Lavish but not exorbitant - Justice Ministry spending $10m monthly for rent of Constant Spring Road complex
The Ministry of Justice is paying out just over $10.4 million monthly for its swanky new complex on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew.
But one of the island's leading real-estate professionals said the ministry might be getting a bargain for what was once Baron's Plaza.
Realtor Deborah Cumming, who heads Century 21 Heave Ho Properties, said the rental for the premises at 61 Constant Spring Road is "very reasonable and probably a bit below market".
"Rental rates ... in and around that area (Constant Spring Road) can range anywhere from a low of US$14 to US$18 a square foot," said Cumming, as she argued that the justice ministry is paying just below the ceiling price for the area it occupies.
Jamaica's taxpayers, for years, have had to fork out millions annually to facilitate government agencies and ministries occupying costly uptown premises.
It was revealed in 2012 that the Government spends more than $1.2 billion annually on rent while much state-owned property remains unoccupied.
The Ministry of Justice was among those based in New Kingston paying millions of dollars in rent. But in March, it was relocated to the Constant Spring Road premises on a five-year lease.
The move from its previous location at NCB Towers on Oxford Road was triggered by a series of incidents arising from bat infestation, with the Public Health Authority eventually ordering the building closed.
The ministry was paying just over $6.6 million monthly for rent and maintenance at the Towers.
Having taken the decision to move to the Constant Spring property, the Justice Ministry shelled out $100 million in cash to install a canteen, a day-care facility for children, a wellness centre, a standby generator and air conditioning of the property. The air conditioning was installed at a cost of $30 million but the ministry said this is to be recovered from the landlord.
With eyebrows being raised about the almost $4 million more the ministry is paying for rent monthly, plus the $100 million upfront cost, former Justice Minister Mark Golding defended the move.
Golding told The Sunday Gleaner that a cheaper location was not found to house the ministry because of the difficulties in obtaining capital expenditure.
"Ultimately, the objective I had in mind was for us to move to a government property, and we had hoped that would have been at 2 Hagley Park Road. But because of the procurement process in the public sector being so tortuous, the construction would have taken a very long time, and we couldn't wait because of the health issues with where we were," said Golding.
"The intention had never been to move from rental accommodation to other rental accommodation, but events forced the situation which you now see," added Golding.
The man who replaced Golding after the Jamaica Labour Party was voted in to form the government in February, Delroy Chuck, has also defended the increased monthly expenditure.
According to Chuck, the ministry's current location is more than worth the rent, as it is big enough to allow the coming together of departments that were previously in separate locations.
Like Golding, Chuck would like to move the ministry away from a rented property, but he parts company with his predecessor on where would be the perfect home.
Instead of the property on Hagley Park Road, which Golding was eyeing, Chuck wants the ministry to make its home in downtown Kingston.
"We are going to fixing up the Attorney General's Chambers on Barry Street and that is where we are going to house the Ministry of Justice in a few years' time," said Chuck.
"It is going to cost a couple of billions, but we are going to get financing in a private/public sector partnership. We are in negotiations with several persons who can assist us in fixing that place which will be several floors and will include the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General Chambers there in Justice Square," said Chuck.
The move to downtown Kingston is one which Cumming would endorse immediately.
According to the realtor, it would cost government entities much less to operate from downtown Kingston even if they will not be occupying state-owned buildings.
"Downtown is definitely an area I would encourage more government places to relocate. Downtown at US$11 a square foot can't be beat and you are getting brand new buildings and there is also parking," said Cumming.