THE POST OFFICE PROJECT: A REQUIEM OF PUBLIC WASTE
COMMENTARY BY BRADLEY B. ROBERTS
FORMER CABINET MINISTER AND MP
8 APRIL 2018
I refer to media reports and comments attributed to the Minister of Transport on the fate of the old Post Office building located on East Hill Street and plans for alternate general postal services to the Bahamian public.
On the face of it, the decision to replace the central post office is a bad and expensive proposition. Further and for the edification of Minister Campbell, the government does not blow up buildings – the government razes or implodes buildings. Additionally, the Transport Minister misspoke in that it is not within his Ministerial portfolio or purview to repair, raze or construct any public building, superstructure or infrastructure. The official technical arm of the government is the Ministry of Works so Minister Desmond Bannister should have pronounced on that official government policy.
If in fact by cabinet conclusion, the government had decided to raze that building, at the very least the Minnis government has an obligation to share with the general public the technical advice given to the government in support of this decision. Did the Ministry of Works condemn the post office building? What would be the cost to raze and rebuild the post office vis-à-vis a retrofit and restoration? Was the Minister properly advised that the technical advice given to the PLP government was that the building was structurally sound and therefore should be restored?
Does the government also know or was the government properly advised that the foundation of that post office building extends the depth of almost two stories below street level so the removal of the same is financially prohibitive? This is an important and interesting observation because most implosions take place above ground. What about the floor area ratio of the post office? Experts rate it at or around 80% which is a very efficient use of the ground area. What were the compelling reasons and objective arguments that led this government to this decision? Was it cost? Was it logistics? Was it the floor area ratio? What about using the restored building for a public library and national conservatory as part of the downtown redevelopment project? That would be a very constructive and publicly beneficial use of that building. I do however find it highly unusual and very strange that an engineering report and recommendations can change so drastically in such a short period of time.
The Opposition must cause for the official technical report and recommendations to be made public if the government fails in its duty of transparency and accountability. The overall management of this post office project must become a priority of the standing Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament.
I am advised that the technical advice given to the previous government was to remove the electrical and mechanical infrastructure in addition to the building’s outer skin (the outer plaster), leaving the bare, but sound, civil or concrete structure intact. This process I am advised is significantly cheaper and quicker than a wholesale structural raze and rebuild. I find it quite amazing that the very same government who came to office complaining about public waste, bloated contracts and a sinful use of public funds can always find a way to waste public funds without valid explanations.
The cancellation of the post office construction project on Tonique Williams-Darling Highway and the acquisition of a building on Gladstone Road come to mind. The government no doubt will have to pay millions in penalties to settle this legally binding contract. Another example is the stalled national baseball stadium project that has been sitting there deteriorating for the past ten months – the leased crane included.
This post office project is becoming scandalous affair for the Minnis government as it is clearly a case of gross mismanagement of scarce public resources and sticking Bahamians with the bill. The government must clear the air on this project and demonstrate to the Bahamian people that they, the government, are acting in the public interest. Cancelling a legally binding contract, paying millions in penalties as a result, then purchasing and retrofitting another building, only to then raze or “blow up” (in the words of Minister Campbell) another building just to provide alternate postal services to the general public seem chaotic, ad hoc, illogical and wasteful at the very least. There has to be a better and more structured and cost-effective way to resolve this postal service issue.
In the public interest, the standing Public Accounts Committee of Parliament must convene and bring some level of transparency, accountability, order and sanity to a project clearly run amok and out of control.
Have the patients taken control of the asylum? God forbid.