$820,000 a year spent on Town Centre Mall rent


Tribune Chief Reporter


MORE than two years after the Minnis administration entered into an agreement to rent the Town Centre Mall to house the General Post Office, the lease outlining the terms and conditions of the $820,000 a year rental was laid on the table of the House of Assembly yesterday.

Under the previous Minnis administration, there were repeated calls for the five-year lease agreement to be made public, but this was never done.

At Parliament yesterday, Transport and Housing Minister JoBeth Coleby-Davis released the document and told members that due to concerns about duplicated costs and the money already expended, the government would not be able to move forward with relocating the post office at this time.

The lease stipulates that the government pays $632,952 per annum for the 52,746 square foot two-story building inclusive of the landlord’s fixtures and fittings. This breaks down to equal monthly payments of $52,746.

Value added tax is also charged on the rental fee in the amount of $75,954.24 or by equal monthly payments of $6,329.52 in advance without any deduction whatsoever on the first day of each month beginning March 1, 2019.

The lease states that the government has to pay additional rent for work on the premises in the amount of $500,000 plus interest to be calculated at prime over 60 months. It represents an annual rent of $111,177.36 to be paid in monthly instalments of $9,264.78.

When all of these costs are totaled, the government pays out an estimated $820,083.60 each year to use the Town Centre Mall.

The lease will come to end on February 28, 2024.

In presenting portions of the agreement, Mrs Coleby-Davis said she would allow Bahamians to come to their own conclusions as to whether there was value for money.

“The government is paying $500,000 to upgrade and improve the property, and the lease agreement stipulates that the government may also have to pay for the premises to be returned to its original state when the lease ends,”she said.

“The government would also have to pay any associated legal fees if litigation arises.

“…Even if the government were to find a more suitable and cost-effective location, due to concerns about duplicated costs and the amounts already expended, we would not be able to move forward at this time. Those are the facts. I will allow those within earshot to form their own conclusions regarding whether they believe the government received value for money or not.”

The government also had to pay all expenses, including counsel and attorney costs and surveyor fees, incurred by the landlord incidental to the preparation and service of a notice under section 16 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act.

The lease notes Craig Symonette as the president of the company that owns the mall. Former Free National Movement Cabinet minister Brent Symonette has a 50 percent stake in the property.

The Town Centre Mall lease was a major point of contention for the previous Minnis administration and led to calls for then-Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to step down.

In July 2019, the decision to lease the mall to house the post office came under renewed scrutiny after Mr Symonette revealed that Dr Minnis personally called him to negotiate the deal in 2018.

However, at the time, the Office of the Prime Minister declined to confirm the date of that call, and further suggested the admission made by the former minister of financial services, trade and immigration represented a breach of confidentiality.

“As a rule, the prime minister never breaches confidentiality when it comes to private discussions he has with Cabinet ministers, which he has on a daily basis,” read an OPM statement in response to questions put forward by The Tribune in July 2019.

“The assertion that the prime minister would personally and unilaterally negotiate a proposal that has gone on over two administrations is nonsensical,” it added.

Mr Symonette resigned from Cabinet in early July 2019 and said he discussed “the whole question of conflict of interest” during that call with Dr Minnis, and was informed of the decision to table a resolution in Parliament.

The contents of that call were disclosed on “The Conversation” with host Shenique Miller, which was at the time aired on ZNS.

Before its decision to use the mall, the Minnis administration had planned to use the old Phil’s Food Services building on Gladstone Road. Their reasoning for stepping away from that building, according to then-Transport Minister Renward Wells, was due to major structural issues.

The resolution was passed to move the post office on October 25, 2018.


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