By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Christie Administration entered into an agreement to lease the Penns Builders Square compound at a monthly rate of $46,892.40, or $562,708.80 per year, Works Minister Desmond Bannister revealed yesterday.
"This was not a prudent decision," he said. "On top of that, the government had to pay a security deposit of $43,620.84 as well as first and last month's rent. I can't imagine the government entering into this type of arrangement. Sadly, there does not appear to be a way out of this lease."
The Penns Builders Square houses the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit.
The unit, Mr Bannister said, performed many of the functions the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is "legally mandated to do."
He said in addition to several extremely capable professionals," it was staffed "with some individuals who had little, if any expertise, in the areas in which they were assigned to perform."
"This scenario was further compounded by the fact that NEMA, the duly constituted Authority, with expertly trained and experienced staff, had no administrative or supervisory oversight with the day-to-day operations of the unit other than the supervision of its work groups."
"It is noteworthy," he said, "that this agency was given oversight of work for which they themselves should have been supervised and monitored.
"Since the beginning of its operations, the NRRU constructed five homes in Crooked Island, three in Acklins, four in San Salvador and twelve in Long Island. Another noteworthy function of the unit was that they oversaw home repairs using NEMA's work groups, their supplies and their materials. However, a quarter way through the process, the repair and construction of new homes by NEMA's work groups was turned over to the Department of Housing."
Mr Bannister said the unit lacked proper administrative structure and key administrative personnel.
Financial transactions for the unit were managed by the Ministry of Finance so the unit didn't have a finance officer or financial controller despite its disbursement of large amounts of funds totaling "millions of dollars."
The unit had no mechanism to "deal with inflated and fraudulent invoices," he said.
The government will request an audit of all expenditure by the NRRU prior to August 2017, he said, adding: "We will insist that an external accounting firm provide monthly financial reports in keeping with the requirements of the Auditor General's Department.
Mr Bannister said the unit "was organized such that twenty three constituencies in New Providence were divided between eight zones. Each zone was assigned a coordinator who had responsibility for the supervision of the assessment process and determining the home owners' eligibility status and the requisite follow up regarding the status of contracts for house repairs."
He said: "Once the eligibility criteria for consideration was met by the homeowner, a contractor was selected and a Letter of Intent (LOI) prepared. The process ultimately culminated with the issuance of a purchase order for material, and a cheque for the mobilization payment of 20 per cent of the total contract sum."
641 homeowners in New Providence have been approved for vouchers for materials, resulting in a dollar value of $837,000, said Mr Bannister.
He added: "I am also advised that as of 28th April this year there were one thousand six hundred and thirty three (1,633) Letters of Intent issued in New Providence, Five hundred and seventy nine (579) of which remain for conversion to contracts.
"One thousand and fifty four of these Letters of Intent have had contracts prepared at a total labour cost of six million four hundred and eight, three hundred and ninety nine dollars and one cent ($6,408,399.01).
"Three hundred and forty nine of these contracts have been certified as completed. Cumulatively, there were three thousand four hundred and fifty two (3,452) assessments conducted for homeowners' of which One hundred and seventy eight (178) were deemed ineligible."