IT’S a staggering figure — the $2 billion being paid by the Government annually for the rent and lease of properties to house ministries, departments and agencies in uptown Kingston.
But frankly, we are not surprised at this continued callous waste of taxpayers’ money. After all, seven years ago the Business Observer brought this iniquity to light with a most detailed report on the massive spend by the Government on rent for high-end complexes and offices in New Kingston.
What was even more shocking about that Business Observer survey was that the tens of millions of dollars being spent by the Government on rent at the time was, in many instances, at a higher cost than what private companies paid for similar accommodation.
That story also pointed to the fact that by being in New Kingston, those ministries, departments and agencies were spurning low-cost office space available in Government buildings in downtown Kingston, and at less expensive locations elsewhere in the capital city.
Since then, we have, in this space, repeatedly argued the fiscal irresponsibility of this situation. Yet it persists.
The information, we hold, is difficult to swallow, given the unhealthy state of the Jamaican economy and the Government’s appeal to their employers — the Jamaican people — for sacrifice.
All that, weighed with the Government’s Animal Farm-like decision to spend $60 million on 16 high-end sports utility vehicles for Cabinet ministers, and the prime minister’s stout defence of that purchase, signal to the electorate that the Administration is beyond insensitive.
So now, the Public Sector Transformation Unit (PSTU) has said that the Government is looking at consolidating its office spaces island-wide in an effort to save an estimated $2 billion in rent.
According to Mrs Patricia Sinclair-McCalla, the CEO of the PSTU, both the National Works Agency and the National Land Agency have been collaborating with the PSTU to do the inventory island-wide, and to determine some basic costs in refurbishing and renovating the offices.
“We will get some additional assistance to do some more rigorous analysis and a time-frame when this can be literally executed, in terms of refurbishing, renovating and even to the extent of considering construction on Government properties within various parishes,” Mrs Sinclair-McCalla told the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament on Tuesday.
Like Mrs Sinclair-McCalla, we hope that when the Government receives the analysis and the Cabinet submission, it will take a decision quickly to facilitate the work necessary to realise those savings.
That, we hold, cannot be difficult, as there are currently hundreds of thousands of square feet of empty office space owned by the Government in downtown Kingston.
With all that space, we can’t see why the Ministry of National Security should be spending $152.4 million of taxpayers’ money annually on rent; neither should the Ministry of Justice be shelling out $148.3 million; and why should the Ministry of Finance, with its fiduciary oversight responsibility, be forking out $139 million annually on rented office space?.
It doesn’t make sense, and smacks of callousness, incompetence and a cavalier attitude to the management of State funds.