The lease agreement for One Alexandra Place, which has long been the centre of political debate, is still being negotiated.
This was confirmed by Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales as the Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee looked into his Ministry’s allocation.
The occupation of the building and the current arrangement in place was raised via a question by Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein, who asked when the lease for the building had expired.
Gonzales confirmed the lease ended on July 1 last year and the government had been in negotiation concerning the agreement.
“Currently PRESD, which is the property and real estate division of the Ministry of Public Administration is in contact with the property owners with a view to renegotiating the terms of the lease,” said Gonzales, who also confirmed the government had been using the building on a month to month basis since then.
Gonzalez said he was not aware of how advanced the negotiations were as the Ministry was not involved in them.
“I have not been provided with the requisite information as to when any particular timeline with respect to the conclusion of these negotiations,” he said.
There a brief moment of controversy as Hosein asked if Gonzales was aware that a member of Cabinet held interest in the building, making a thinly veiled reference to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. However, Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde quickly quelled that back and forth.
The St Clair building has been a source of political discussion since being first rented by the government in 2009. It has been used by every administration since then.
Questions were also raised with regard to increase in allocation for property rental, in particular from Naparima MP Rodney Charles, who questioned the increase given the government’s calls for landlords to ease costs on their tenants around the country.
“I feel that putting a 2 million increase in rent is an insult to the request that you’re making to the population to sacrifice,” said Charles in response to the Minister’s explanation that the figure also included outstanding payments for last year.
This prompted the leader of Government business Camille Robinson-Regis to intervene.
“You have to estimate for what you have paid previously so you wouldn’t put a lesser figure here and the member and everyone knows that,” said Robinson-Regis who reiterated that the government was attempting to negotiate reduced rental rates.