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New Road Traffic Hq Stalled Amid Partnership Concern

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

A $25m public-private partnership (PPP) to establish a new Road Traffic Department headquarters on Tonique Williams Darling Highway is stalled because the government has yet to decide how it will deal with PPPs arranged by the Christie administration.

The delay is "unreasonably long and costly," Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip "Brave" Davis said yesterday.

The Christie administration decided to demolish the Clarence A Bain Building which previously housed the Road Traffic Department, moving the headquarters to a temporary location at the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium. In rainy or hot weather, the stadium facility lacks shelter to shield residents seeking the department's services, causing great frustration.

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PLP Leader Philip 'Brave' Davis.

"One would expect you would have seen some sense of urgency to make a decision as to what the administration is going to do or not do on the matter," Mr Davis said.

The Christie administration had entered into a partnership with (PPP1) to develop a new administration building and vehicle inspection centre. The project was expected to include a "world-class, 30,000-square-foot administrative facility, vehicle inspection bays with full car lifts, and accommodations for a state-of-the-art information technology system," according to a Nassau Guardian report last year. It was also expected to include four main buildings: a main administration complex, a technical support and facilities management building, a vehicle inspection centre, and storage and maintenance areas.

The project was initially slated to be complete in December of this year. However, the Minnis administration halted it amid general concerns about PPPs arranged by the Christie administration.

Works Minister Desmond Bannister generally criticised PPPs arranged by his predecessors, but he highlighted the Road Traffic Department arrangement as an example of how such projects should be executed in his speech during the budget debate last year.

"The model for a commercially viable public-private partnership is the one that the honourable member for Exuma and his business partners have put together for an office complex on Tonique Williams Darling Highway, where the government will invest in the project and will be given preference shares in the ownership of the company that will own the building," he said. "The government will then rent the building for ten years and at the end of that period the building will be turned over to the government for $100. On top of that the government will be paid 60 percent of the residual revenue in the ownership company. So, at the end of the day the government will get its initial investment back. That's a win, win agreement. It's the type of agreement that would make sense."

Despite this previous positive view of the arrangement, Mr Bannister, when contacted yesterday, said PPPs by the former administration are still currently under review by the Office of the Attorney General.

Asked if too long a time is being taken to reach a position on the matters, Mr Bannister said the AG's Office has a heavy workload.

"Coming into office, the Office of the Attorney General had an amazing load to bear and so much to deal with," he said. "There were so many irregularities, so many issues. I think they are working as assiduously to do what is right and when it comes with the law, we don't ever want to rush them when it comes to their determination."

Nonetheless, Mr Davis said there are costs associated with the "starts and stops" of such projects.

"As long as it goes without attention there's a cost associated for taxpayers," Mr Davis said. "There would have had to be mobilisation; they may have rented equipment and space; they may have equipment on site that they may have to secure; they have to have security. There are costs. There may have been legal advice about what was arranged that one might seek but decisions have to be made. On the question about whether the project will continue or not, that's a decision one could make without any legal input. The only legal question is where there are binding arrangements in respect to those projects or not. If there are, they will have to decide what then are the consequences if they don't go through with it?""

Last year the Minnis administration halted construction on two other PPP projects arranged by the previous administration: a multi-million government complex in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama and a new post office building at the Independence Drive Shopping Centre in New Providence.

Mr Bannister last year criticised the price structure of the Grand Bahama project which he said involved prepaying interest to the contractor, a fact he called "inconceivable." He said he stopped the project because, among other problems, the concrete "was not sufficient strength for the structure."

As for the post office project, Mr Bannister halted the project after determining it commenced without any approved plans or building permits. He said no traffic impact study was performed and no proper site assessment was completed to see if "there was any possible ground contamination from the nearby gas station," among other issues.

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday he will review where the administration is on the PPP matters.

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