By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
And RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is expected to bring a resolution to Parliament today which will allow the Minnis administration to rent facilities at the Town Centre Mall to house the General Post Office for a period of five years.
While the move could bring an end to years of turmoil for workers at the facility and months of anguish for Bahamians that depend on its operations, it will also likely prove controversial, as Town Centre Mall is partly owned by Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and industry and immigration.
The proposed rental agreement, if approved by Parliament, is expected to last five years, according to a draft document seen by The Tribune, until a new General Post Office is built through a public-private partnership.
The proposed rental price is a “concessionary” rate of $12 per square foot, said to be “far below” the going rate for business premises in the country, the document also states.
The Tribune was told Mr Symonette was not a part of Cabinet discussions about the rental and will not be present in Parliament whenever a debate occurs on the resolution.
When contacted yesterday, Mr Symonette said he was in Miami, Florida, adding he knew nothing about the proposed rental of the property.
“I’m not sure because I have been out of town so I wasn’t part of Cabinet today. I’m at a conference in Miami,” Mr Symonette said yesterday.
He also said: “I wouldn’t have been part of any Cabinet discussions on that.”
Yesterday, a well-placed source told this newspaper the matter will be debated in Parliament to ensure transparency.
“The government is trying to resolve the issue of the post office because Christmas is coming and too many people have been working without an efficient post office,” the source said. “After searching, Town Centre Mall, which had been recommended under the former government, the government has looked at it again and government will be debating that matter (today) in the interest of transparency.”
The Christie administration had looked at relocating the General Post Office to the Town Centre Mall during its last term, but ultimately decided to enter into a public-private partnership (PPP) to construct a new building at the Independence Drive Shopping Centre opposite the mall instead. Tribune Business previously reported that project was placed on hold following traffic flow-related complaints from local residents and concerns over whether proper due diligence had been conducted.
After the Minnis administration assumed office, officials announced it had acquired the old Phil’s Food Services building on Gladstone Road to house the General Post Office. But last month, Transport Minister Renward Wells revealed the government had gone back to the drawing board on plans to relocate the facility.
Mr Wells, at the time, said while the government had identified the old Phil’s building as a possibility, Cabinet had discovered it would cost more to renovate the building than it had budgeted.
“We anticipated it was going to be about $4m to renovate the building,” Mr Wells said last month. “Obviously it is a whole lot more than that and the Ministry of Works is now going through the whole design process as to how we get that done so we’re looking over the next week or two to being able to come back with a subsequent stop gap measure.
“We’re looking at something else that we may be able to do in regards to the post office so we can get the post office fully functioning while we look at the finished site as to where the post office is going to be.”
The Tribune was told yesterday by a government source that the needed renovations at the Phil’s building are extensive and it will take “a least a year to get that done.”
Meanwhile yesterday, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold told reporters Cabinet was expected to make a final decision on how to proceed with remedying issues surrounding the dilapidated post office. Mr Newbold told reporters that discussions in Cabinet yesterday would be about the situations surrounding the property and its relocation.
“I want to first apologise to the Bahamian people that use that facility and of course, I most profoundly and profusely apologise to the employees who have to work there and endured the misery,” Mr Newbold said during his weekly press briefing.
He added: “Prime Minister Minnis and his government have promised some relief, certainly by the end of the year and I suspect that you may hear at the end of the day (yesterday), but most certainly tomorrow (today) in the House of Assembly would be concerning what the government intends to do with that General Post Office.”
For much of the last year, workers at the General Post Office have worked shortened shifts at their East Hill Street location because of the “hazardous” conditions; they have also staged several protests. The building has been plagued with a myriad of issues including mould and a broken air-conditioner system. The situation has led to a backlog in mail delivery.