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EDITORIAL: Samuda and his uptown landlord

Published:Saturday | February 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The announcement that the Factories Corporation of Jamaica is on its way uptown sits rather oddly with a recent declaration by Prime Minister Bruce Golding that there would be more efficient use of office space for public entities, including utilising real estate in downtown Kingston. One could go further and argue that the prime minister and his commerce minister are operating at cross purposes.

Mr Golding's intention to reverse the blight in the once-vibrant capital struck a chord with many people, who hailed this as a step in the right direction. As is always the case, sensible public-sector initiatives will attract the attention of nimble businesses. So it was not surprising that telecoms giant Digicel would want to seize the opportunities to be gained and decided it would erect its multimillion-dollar headquarters along the waterfront. Other entities have signalled their intention to also join the movement downtown.

Now we have the unapologetic Karl Samuda, minister of industry, investment and commerce, conjuring up a number of reasons why the company responsible for developing and managing industrial and commercial space in the public sector will swap its public-sector landlord and pay rent to the National Commercial Bank. In the blather to explain this decision, Mr Samuda says the savings of $1 million in rental are worth it.

role of a government

A good government should try to achieve taxpayer value in the same way that it is expected that successful private-sector companies will endeavour to achieve shareholder value. But this government has demonstrated that it has a hard time matching rhetoric on lower spending with action. Promises to trim the government, for example, remain unfulfilled.

It is ironic that the entity that is the largest provider of industrial and commercial space in Jamaica, charged with finding space for industrial entities, feels it should be ensconced in New Kingston away from the hub of the industrial estate where many of its tenants do their businesses. These times demand a fundamental rethink of the traditional way of doing business, and we believe one option for the Factories Corporation is to use some of the space it is now offering for rent.

inconsistent move

We agree with the assessment by Opposition spokesman Mark Golding that this move is inconsistent with the spirit of the times and runs counter to the intentions of the prime minister. Mr Samuda says he needs 25,000 square feet to house all the entities in his ministry under one roof. We cannot determine the efficiency of garnering all these entities under one roof, but we do wonder whether solid structures like the JAMINTEL building, the former Workers and Century buildings and the Attorney General's department were considered.

It seems that a coherent policy is needed to guide the decisions about housing, furnishing and outfitting public-sector entities, for left up to ministers, there is no guarantee that the desired focus on efficiency and moderation will be met. In fact, it has been the pattern that most ministers opt for what is opulent when given a choice.

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