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Owner used it rent free too
Government is currently probing the People’s Partnership administration’s 2012 purchase of an Arima building for $27 million despite advice from Government’s Property and Real Estate Services Division (PRESD) that the building wasn’t “the soundest structure.”
Minister in Legal Affairs and the Attorney General Stuart Young also claimed yesterday that after purchase, the building’s former owner was “allowed to continue operating there, rent free.”
Revealing developments at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, he added, “It’s under probe.”
Young spoke about the matter in the wake of the revival of similar issues this week from the Auditor General’s 2016 report, which was laid in Parliament in April. He said Public Administration Minister Maxie Cuffie subsequently gave statements addressing property issues in the report.
More recently, however, he said the Works Ministry wrote him last month requesting a probe of the former Transport Ministry’s purchase of a property at 3-3A Robinson Circular, Arima, during the PP’s tenure.
The property was to have housed a Motor Vehicle Authority Access centre.
Young said an October 2011 report by the Housing Ministry’s Permanent Secretary—who governs the PRESD—to Transport’s Permanent Secretary warned then that building wasn’t sound.
He said an independent valuator last month valued the property at $18 million.
“That’s a $9 million variance from the original price,” he said, as he cited the PRESD’s 2011 report to Transport noting the PP Cabinet in January 2011 agreed in principle to acquire the property.
The PRESD stated the owner originally sought $80m for the property, but the PRESD stated “this amount was over 300 per cent of the market value prescribed by the Commissioner of Valuations (CoV).” The PRESD said the owner commissioned a private valuator whose report suggested a market value of $31m, “which was approximately 20 per cent in excess of the CoV’s valuation.”
The PRESD also told the then Transport Ministry it was “unaware” of the process by which the Transport Ministry “would have gone through to identify this property for use as a Motor Vehicle Authority.”
It was found the building, which is currently unoccupied, had an RBC Caribbean mortgage for $14m.
Former PP transport minister Devant Maharaj yesterday confirmed the building had been purchased under the PP’s tenure. He, however, claimed moves for a Motor Vehicle Authority centre began under former PNM Works Minister Colm Imbert and continued under PP Works Minister Jack Warner “who selected the property.”
“I continued the process after Warner. I came in when the agreement was made to buy it and I continued it, but I was reassigned to Food Production two months after the building was purchased,” he added.
Denying he allowed anyone to stay in the building after it was purchased in April 2012, he said he’d spoken to the former owner, who said he’d moved out by June 2012 after the building was bought.
Maharaj said he’d never seen the PRESD’s 2011 report.
“I have a valuator’s 2007 report valuing the building at $27 million. If it wasn’t sound how was COP’s Rodger Samuel using it as a constituency office for which the Parliament was paying the rent?”