There is no formal lease between the State and the family of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi for the multi-million dollar rentals at Alexandra Place.
Mario Villarroel Lander
The State has paid more $165 million in just under ten years for 1 Alexandra Place and in 2016 the Minister of Public Utilities moved into the building. This year, Government moved the Office of the Chief Personnel Officer to 3 Alexandra Place
Questions are now being raised about the legality of rentals as, according to the Ministry of Public Administration, the leases are still being ratified
Head of Fixin’ T&T Kirk Waithe sent an FOIA request to the Ministry of Public Administration in March and according to the Ministry’s response, the formal lease is still outstanding
In documents provided to Guardian Media, Waithe asked for copies of the draft deed of the lease for Alexandra Place property, copies of all cheques for leasing/payments for the property and copies of receipts
«Please be advised that a draft deed of lease has been prepared but further clarification is being sought before finalization and review by the Commissioner of State Lands,» was the FOIA response to that request
With regards to the request for copies of payment and receipts for 3 Alexandra Street, the Ministry of Public Administration said the Attorney General did not participate in discussions about those rental arrangements
The ministry said «the lease/rental property located at 3 Alexandra Street for a period of three years at a monthly rental of $575,000 plus VAT
«No lease/ rental agreement has as yet been executed for 3 Alexandra Street, St Clair, and no attorneys have yet been involved in the leasing/rental of the property.»
Guardian Media was able to confirm that up to Wednesday, no formal leases exist.
In May, during the Mid Year review, Finance Minister Colm Imbert added another $2 million for the fit-out of the space for the office of the Chief Personnel Office.
Efforts to contact Kennedy Swaratsingh, who was the Minister of Public Utilities when the deal was signed, were unsuccessful. The United National Congress (UNC) replaced Swaratsingh with Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam, who served as Minister of Public Utilities from 2010 until a reshuffle one year later. She was replaced by Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan
In a brief exchange on Thursday, Seepersad-Bachan said she never had sight of the lease or any other arrangement
«When I became Minister of Public Administration properties division was removed from my portfolio and placed under Ministry of Housing,» she said
During the time of the fit-out of the building, current deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) Jearlean John served as head of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UdeCOTT)
«Saw no lease. That would have been with the Ministry of Public Administration,» she said
Former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said the People’s Partnership government let the lease on 1 Alexandra Place continue despite the space remaining empty
«Not number 3 but I think the decision on number1 was continued when we were there we did not victimize anyone regardless of political persuasion,» he said
Current Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald did not respond to requests for comment
The rental of One Alexandra Place, St Clair, which straddled two administrations—the Manning-led PNM and the Persad-Bissessar-led PP—has been the source of allegations from both political sides
The structure at the corner of Alexandra Street and Tragarete Road, though empty, was «resurrected» in the latest Auditor General’s report laid in the Senate last Tuesday. The report stated that $47,813,544.78 in rent was paid between 2009 and 2015
According to the report, Cabinet in 2009 (under the PNM) agreed to the lease/rental of office space in the building to accommodate the Local Government Ministry. It stated that approvals were later seen for the outfitting of the building.
The lease was transferred to the Housing and Urban Development Ministry effective August 1, 2014, and then to the Ministry of the People and Social Development from May 19, 2015
The Auditor General reported that the building remained unoccupied from the inception of the lease in December 2009. No new payments were made after June 2015.
A former senior PNM local government official involved in the 2009 rental process said Kent House, which had housed Local Government and URP offices, was very old, small, and had structural issues
The Manning administration, seeking new accommodation, hired real estate companies to source alternatives and several locations were proposed. A ministerial team, including technical officials, worked with the property management unit examining cost and sizes and chose One Alexandra Place
It was approved by the PNM Cabinet but the 2010 general election was called and the PP entered office.