Town Centre Mall. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
TRANSPORT and Local Government Minister Renward Wells yesterday said the future of the General Post Office will ultimately be decided by the next general election.
Mr Wells told The Tribune it was obvious the decision to lease the Town Centre Mall from a sitting Cabinet minister will be an election issue, adding Bahamians will voice their support or dissent at the polls. His comments come as Progressive Liberal Party leader Philip “Brave” Davis described the debacle as a “crisis of trust”, adding a vote of no confidence would take place in a “functioning government where public trust was valued”.
Former Cabinet minister Brent Symonette has a 50 percent stake in the mall, and last week revealed that Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis called him personally to negotiate the deal. The Office of the Prime Minister has refused to divulge the date of that call, or whether it took place prior to a Cabinet discussion, telling The Tribune it is a matter of confidentiality.
Mr Wells was asked whether the government had given any consideration to a permanent location for the facility, currently housed at the Town Centre Mall on a five-year lease.
“We will look at where the post office is currently,” Mr Wells said, “whether it’s meeting the needs of the Bahamian people. We will do the assessment over three years to see whether services are being delivered, if the Bahamian people are pleased with the new location. If there is another decision that needs to be taken, then we will go from there.”
Mr Wells was asked whether the government intended to rent the location indefinitely.
Mr Wells said: “We didn’t say that. Right now we have a five year lease and that’s where it is. We are going to be looking at the operations and assessing it. We will be getting back to the Bahamian people. We will have to put that to the Bahamian people and the Bahamian people will be able to make that decision because we have an election coming up before the lease is up. We have an election coming up in three years.
“Obviously this is going to be an election issue that folks are going to talk about,” Mr Wells continued.
“At the end of the day the Bahamian people will make the ultimate decision. We made the best decision in the interest of workers of the post office, and the Bahamian people. The ultimate assessment is going to be a general election.”
The resolution tabled in Parliament in October last year stated the government’s intent to rent 75,000 square feet of space in the mall at a cost of $12 per square foot - which amounts to $4.5m over the five-year life span of the lease.
Mr Wells confirmed yesterday the lease agreement remains unsigned as the government is reportedly still deliberating over the square footage, particularly the lease of additional storage space.
Officials at the post office have asked for an additional 1,600 sq ft, according to Mr Wells, who said the lease will be signed once that is finalised.
Combined with the 56,000 sq ft currently occupied by the General Post Office, the total sq footage of the lease will be 57,600.
Mr Wells did not comment on calls by the Official Opposition and the Democratic National Alliance for Dr Minnis to resign alongside a full disclosure on the matter.
Yesterday, Mr Davis said: “It is difficult to imagine how the prime minister can continue to lead the government effectively. With his misrepresentations to the House of Assembly, and multiple deals benefitting members of his inner political circle, he has lost the trust of the public.”
Mr Davis added: “It is likely that members of the prime minister’s political party prefer to keep him in place, rather than see him resign or fall to a no confidence vote. Many of them are putting politics, not country, first.
“Some of them care only about their continued ability to pull his puppet strings to their own benefit,” he added. “This may be the political reality, but it does not in any way justify the unethical behaviour that has led to this crisis of trust.”