EDITORIAL - Lack of will to do the job
If we were cynical, we would claim that the hyperventilating in Parliament last week over the Public Sector Transformation Unit's (PSTU) report that the Government spends more than a billion dollars a year on rent was contrived.
What would drive this newspaper into such anger-driven breathing spasms would be to learn that an analysis of how government offices might be consolidated is only now being done.
First, that the Government shells out huge sums each year in rent to house its ministries and departments is old news, about which this newspaper has complained for several years and at one point appeared to have gained the attention of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
Mr Golding went to Parliament to disclose what is paid for rent - which we believe to be understated. He ordered that government ministries end their mad rush for accommodation in expensive, uptown real estate, while tens of thousands of square feet of office space in state-owned buildings downtown remained empty. Included in this is thousands of square feet at the Central Sorting Office; the mostly empty multi-storey former Oceana hotel that, admittedly, is in need of repair; the several empty floors in the adjacent Urban Development Corporation building that now requires some upgrade; and the Jamintel high-rise and old Ministry of Housing building which have cost, cumulatively, more than $40 million for security services.
Mr Golding's order for ministries to stay downtown, both to save money and help encourage renewal in the old section of the capital, did kick-start a real programme of refurbishing and having Government head downtown. It certainly didn't stop Karl Samuda's then industry and commerce ministry, and one of its agencies, the Factories Corporation of Jamaica, with great, windy explanations, from bolting for New Kingston.
Mr Samuda was not alone. They followed a route well established by government agencies, such as the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), which outbid the private sector for the Oxford Road building that once housed the US consular offices. There was, too, the Export-Import Bank, the PIOJ's neighbour across the road.
It matters little that the money used by the PIOJ for the purchase was money it "earned", rather than a grant from the Treasury. The cash, ultimately, belonged to taxpayers.
Defying basic economics
Indeed, the rental policy, if that is what it represents, rather than whim, seems to defy basic economics, employing simple arithmetic. For instance, the PSTU's boss, Patricia Sinclair McCalla, reported to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that the national security ministry spends J$222 million a year on rent.
Most of that, we believe, goes for rent in the NCB Towers in New Kingston, at which rate the owners would, in less than half a decade, recoup their announced purchase price for the property when it was among the distressed banking assets flagged by the Government's bailout agency, FINSAC.
It is probably true that Jamaica's Government is afraid to get on with the overhaul and modernisation of the public sector, given the dislocation and retrenchment that it will necessarily entail.
But the PSTU has a responsibility to place before the Government the information and the options on which to base decisions, including efficiency in property management. That is why we would be surprised if information on consolidating offices and saving on rent is not yet prepared and on the table.
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