By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is urging the Government to "clearly articulate a vision and plan" for modernising The Bahamas' postal system, as it slammed the "flawed" Town Centre Mall relocation..
Buscheme Armbrister, the party's spokesperson for transport and aviation, in a statement conceded that the main post office's relocation was long overdue given the need to modernise its services for the 21st century.
"After years of inconvenience and discomfort, the Bahamian people expected a long-term solution and plan for the postal system. Unfortunately, we have been presented with another ad hoc and temporary solution - a temporary solution with a five-year commitment," Mr Armbrister said.
Renward Wells, minister of transport, who last week tabled a parliamentary resolution to approve renting space for the Post Office at the Town Centre Mall, said the lease terms will offer a "concessionary rate" of $12 per square foot for the Post Office.
This, he said, was far below the going rate for commercial rentals on New Providence. Portions of the building will be leased and made suitable for the Post Office's operations at the landlord's expense, and the space will be leased for a five-year period.
"According to news reports, the Government will be leasing at least 56,000 square feet in the Town Centre Mall at $12 per square foot for five years. The minister with responsibility for the post office could not confirm the total cost to taxpayers when asked by the media," said Mr Armbrister.
"This would seem odd seeing that, on the face of it, the total cost would be a minimum of $672,000 per annum or approximately $3.4m over five years. However, what remains unknown is the value of any anticipated leasehold improvements, ongoing maintenance costs and other associated fees for which the Bahamian taxpayer will be responsible."
Mr Armbrister added: "In the absence of all the details, we question whether this is the best deal for the Bahamian people and how construction or renovation costs of other properties identified compare to the amount of funds the Government will utilise to finalise the deal with owners of the Town Centre Mall.
"Furthermore, the Government has failed to provide details on how this will be funded and whether the current budget can accommodate the total cost of this venture."
He described the selection process for the new location as also leaving "much to be desired". Mr Armbrister said: "There was no Request for Proposal issued by the Government to provide an opportunity for all without bias and encourage competition among small to medium-sized businesses or owners of commercial property within the bidding process.
"It is disappointing that these are the actions of an administration that campaigned on transparency, accountability and economic empowerment for all. While the chosen location may have won the bid on merit, it has been tainted by a flawed process."
Mr Armbrister warned: "The result of this myopic approach to governance is that we will either find ourselves seeking a new location in five years, or end up being stuck with this lease arrangement after investing millions of dollars in a property that we do not own.
"We implore the Government to clearly articulate a vision and plan for the modernisation of the postal system in The Bahamas in the age of technology and e-commerce. The business model must evolve with the changing trends and inspire entrepreneurship among the Bahamian people."
Tribune Business has frequently reported about the collapse of the postal system, following multiple complaints from residents and businesses. Mr Wells said the General Post Office site on East Hill Street has been condemned as being structurally unsound and mould infested, with staff repeatedly taking industrial action over their working conditions.
The Minnis administration previously announced it had acquired the former Phil's Food Services building on Gladstone Road to house the General Post Office. But Mr Wells revealed last month that the Government had gone back to the drawing board because Cabinet discovered it would cost more to renovate the building than it had budgeted.
The Christie administration had also 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 across the roundabout.
The Town Centre Mall is partly owned by Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, and his family. Mr Wells has defended the Government's decision, saying: "This is not the first time that a member of the House of Assembly would have had their building leased [by the Government]."