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Government must allocate monies so public servants can maintain State property

Published Thursday 18th November 2004


Salvatori Building, Port-of-Spain.
Photo: Karla Ramoo

Recently, as we discussed the burning issue of non-maintenance of State properties, we had reports on the poor condition of the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court and the disputed State “repossession” of Mille Fleur from the Law Association, said to be necessary to prevent further deterioration.

One of my favourite quotes is from Albert Einstein, who defined idiocy as “endlessly repeating the same process, hoping for a different result.” Some food for thought as we strive to do better at managing our limited resources. Do we have the capacity to learn from our mistakes and improve our results?

Some of the policy options in correcting the mismanagement of State property are as follows:

  • Lack of strategy

The State policy on land management is set out in a 1992 document, which does not seem to extend to bodies such as Caroni, Petrotrin or the various Local Government bodies.

As a result, there are illogical and inefficient rent levels between various areas, with some prime property earning the State the same rents as in more remote residential areas.

What to do? Should prime rents be increased or residential rents be reduced?

There are other management issues in the cases of leaseholders who wish to change the permitted use of the property. An example of these inconsistencies is in the sidebar. There is no sense that there is a policy for our State properties which is part of a whole aimed at national development.

No sense of alignment with various medium-term targets related to school-feeding, employment or the development of niche agriculture or manufacturing.

The document sets out a series of administrative arrangements and is actually silent as to the vital role State property has to play in the wider development of the society.

  • Property allocation

How is State property allocated? There is a long-held belief that lucrative leases are granted to those who find political favour and one way in which this has been dealt with in the past is the system which forces the most routine lease renewals to be subject to presidential approval.

The mistaken belief that this will somehow comfort a suspicious public is almost as bad as believing that the Head of State actually vets the documents. The various documents are approved on the recommendation of the relevant public servants.

The public servants still operate the system and wield the power. All we have done is to erect another useless layer of bureaucracy, which only acts to delay.

  • Leasehold management

We also recently had newspaper exposés on the alleged takeover of State-owned quarries and the attempts by the responsible minister to explain the position.

The picture is still very unclear, but we are left with the impression that, were it not for those exposés, little would have been done to address the alleged non-compliance with the terms of those leases.

Can it really be acceptable to grant leases of property worth millions of dollars if there is no commitment to actively managing the portfolio?

Those are taxpayers’ properties and we need to ensure that leaseholders comply with the terms of their agreements.

To do otherwise would be a gross mismanagement of the public assets put into the trust of politicians and senior civil servants.

Again, we can be sure that none of those people would treat with their own properties in this slack fashion.

The poor salaries and consequent staff shortage in the relevant parts of the public service will be the subject of the next column, but we need to register that this poor management has serious long-term consequences.

  • Maintenance targets

Of course, we would need to ensure that our public servants have the necessary monies to maintain the properties which are their responsibility.

One way to begin might be to allocate maintenance funds as a percentage of the cost of the properties in the particular areas.

This would need to be checked by examining the extent to which the allocated funds were expended and the level of maintenance.

  • Examples of Best Practice

It would be untrue to say that there are no examples of properly-managed State property and we need to learn from those.

The Twin Towers, Brian Lara Promenade and San Fernando Hill are well-maintained public properties despite their heavy use. The conception and maintenance of these need to be examined so that the positive practices can be reproduced.

  • Examples of inconsistent policies

In Woodbrook—ie south of Tragarete Road—a leaseholder can obtain permission from the landlord—in this case the PoS Corporation—for a change of use from residential to commercial on particular streets.

A typical Woodbrook residential leaseholder pays about $0.33 per sq ft and the change of use would increase this to $1.00 per sq ft.

In St Clair, which is north of Tragarete Road, a leaseholder can obtain permission from the landlord—in this case the State—for a change of use from residential to commercial on streets south of St Clair Avenue.

The cost of this change of use is about $140 per sq ft.

Next week we will look at the organisations responsible for the management of State property.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

One of my favourite quotes is from Albert Einstein, who defined idiocy as “endlessly repeating the same process, hoping for a different result.” Some food for thought as we strive to do better at managing our limited resources.