Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guest commentary: Would the THA explain please?

Reproduced unedited from the Express newspaper
By Reginald Dumas

(Story Created: Sep 11, 2012 at 11:01 PM ECT. Story Updated: Sep 11, 2012 at 11:01 PM ECT)

Some documents recently reached my mailbox. They are a great puzzlement.One of them is a deed dated November 15, 2011, which records—or witnesseth, in deedspeak—the purchase of three acres of land for the sum of TT$12 million by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) from a company called Dankett Ltd.

A second document gives Dankett's directors as Anthony Rahael, Joseph Rahael, John Aboud and Michael Aboud.

A third document is dated November 21, 2011, six days after the THA purchase. In this document, the THA leases the land it has just bought to a company called Milshirv Properties Ltd for a period of 199 years, beginning December 1, 2011, at an annual rental of $10. That's right: $10. 
A fourth document gives Milshirv's directors as Joseph Rahael and John Aboud.

According to the lease document, Milshirv is "to construct an office building and facilities (being 82,954 sf over three floors in extent)... on completion of (which), (Milshirv) will lease (them) to the (THA) for a term of 20 years..."All rates, taxes and assessments" on the premises are to be paid by the THA. I expect that $10 a year would cover those costs nicely.

Attached to, and forming part of, this document are drawings and designs of the proposed facility. They were done by Amera Caribbean Development Ltd, which in the telephone directory bears the same address as the ones in the documents for the directors of Dankett and Milshirv. A coincidence, I expect. We experience that phenomenon all the time in this country.

Questions arise which I need help to answer satisfactorily. For instance, why would the THA, which never tires of telling us about all the Tobago land it says it has acquired over the last several years in the interest of the people of Tobago, purchase even more land merely for administrative offices (the Division of Agriculture)? 

Why would it have bought land from one company and almost immediately leased it to another company (don't even think about interlocking directorates) for 199 years, which means the land has been virtually given away? (The land is at the corner of the Claude Noel Highway and Shirvan Road in Canaan/Bon Accord, near the airport. Is this the best location for an office dealing with agriculture and marine affairs?)

Now comes a THA media release of September 6 which says, among other things, there are "significant benefits to be gained from the BOLT (Build Own Lease Transfer) arrangement entered into by the (THA) with the special purpose company MILSHIV (sic) Ltd to build the facility". (Special purpose! This goes beyond even Patrick Manning, who confined himself to State enterprises, whereas Milshirv is a private sector company.)

Among these "benefits", apparently, are that "the THA (will) not have to put out any money for the project" (but will merely pay a fixed rate at the present market price of $15.61 per sf per month over [20 years]).

Also, the THA (will) not be responsible for the external maintenance of the building; the developer will take all the risk in the investment; the lease/rental will be "a charge on recurrent expenditure, thus freeing up development funds for other projects"; and at the end of 20 years "the property (will) automatically be owned by the (THA)".

As for the nearly two-century-long, peppercorn rent lease, that was done to allow MILSHIR (sic) "to secure long-term financing for the project".

If my arithmetic is good, the THA, ie, the T&T taxpayer, will therefore be paying for the facility, which the THA release says is to cost $143 million, a monthly rental of just under $1.3 million (83,000 sf at $15.61 per sf). Over 20 years the total amount paid will consequently be about $310 million. Especially when other factors are taken into consideration, including the ones given in the release, does this represent good value for our money? But why worry, after all, we have the THA's word that it isn't putting out any money for the project.

Rent isn't money, it seems; the nature and timing of payments may not matter. I wouldn't mind being the developer, though. With funds running like that under the BOLT concept, even Usain would be envious.

Other questions arise. Were tenders publicly invited? Or was Milshirv merely deemed a "special purpose company"? If so, by whom and on what authority? Why, how and when would that have happened? Why does the THA release say the land was "previously owned by Amera", when in fact the THA bought it from Dankett? What could be the implications for the taxpayer of a building to be owned by the THA, ie, the taxpayer, only in the 2030s yet constructed on land now owned by the THA but leased until 2210?

There are of course many other documents I haven't seen; a good paper trail would include, for example, Notes to the THA Executive Council and the decisions thereon. Would the THA, in the name of the transparency and accountability that administrations in T&T are so fond of proclaiming, issue a comprehensive statement for the benefit of T&T, and particularly of Tobago? And would persons familiar with concepts like BOLT and BLOT and BOOT, etc, comment as well?

Oh, I nearly forgot. The directors of Amera are Joseph Rahael and Anthony Rahael. Another coincidence, I imagine.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai