Following recent reports concerning the alleged overspending to purchase and upgrade the residence of Transport and Works Minister, Mike Henry, speculations have since been put to rest following a press conference at the Ministry’s Offices on Wednesday. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Works, Dr. Alwin Hales, in clarifying the misconceptions surrounding the issue, explained that when the Jamaica Omni Bus Service (JOS) was wound up, most of the properties occupied and owned by that entity were eventually turned over to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). He highlighted that the property, which is located at 5 Milsborough Crescent, was still part of the assets of the now defunct JOS, but in October 2007, the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) entered into discussion with the Ministry of Transport and Works for the purchase of land and buildings owned by the JOS.
However, subject to the purchase agreement, a Cabinet note was submitted by the Ministry of Transport and Works to Cabinet, advising of the proposed purchase of the property, and that in 2000, Cabinet gave approval for the property to be transferred from the JOS to the JUTC.
“In light of the proposed sale of the property, two valuations were done in October/November, 2007. One was done by the National Land Agency in October, 2007 which listed the value of the property as $65M, while the other which was done in November, 2007 by Allison Pitter & Company which had the valuation between $60M-$65M.”
The Permanent Secretary further explained that major work was required on the premises, including revamping the piping system which was comprised of asbestos. In addition to the replacement of the pipes throughout the premises, which entailed considerable excavation of walls and flooring, a gabion retaining wall which was seriously damaged by Hurricane Gustav had to be repaired. There was also work required to clean and bush the property as well as replace a pump, refrigerator and stove.
“An amount of $12.3M was spent on the property for the following: work relating to the revamping of the piping system, roof repairs, general refurbishing, purchase of a stove and refrigerator, painting, bushing and clearing of the property. Construction of a gabion retaining gully wall was done at a cost of $2.14M for a combined expenditure of $14.46M. It is a matter of note that the combined expenditure of $14.46M for the re-furbishing works as well as the $35M purchase price fall well below both valuations received for the property, which were $65M and between $60M and $65M respectively. I would also like to point out that the Sale Agreement which has been signed is for an agreed amount of $35M. So, even with the combining of the $14.46M and the $35M, this is still some way beneath the $60-65M that has been bandied about in the press.”
It was further clarified that the Port Authority is negotiating a draft lease with the Minister of Transport and Works, who is the occupant of the premises, and that rental rates for the premises were being discussed with the National Land Agency, which normally leases Government properties to Ministers of Government. In justifying the urgency and necessity of the decision to undertake the purchase and upgrade of the facility, Dr. Hales pointed out that the premises, in addition to being the official residence of the Minister, will also serve to entertain guests and officials with whom the Ministry does business.