GOVERNMENT is reviewing the status of several residential properties owned by the State.
Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald made this disclosure Friday, on her first full day back at work. McDonald was on sick leave last month after a bout with pneumonia. In an interview at her office in the Nalis building in Port of Spain, she said, “There are certain things, projects that I have in the pipeline.”
When the Prime Minister returned from a state visit to China in May, McDonald said, he gave her this assignment and she started on it immediately.
“This exercise has not been done in 20 years,” she said.”We have started in Flagstaff, Ellerslie Park, Federation Park, Federation Villas, Prada Street, La Seiva.We call that Squadron One.” McDonald said the report on residential properties in these areas is almost complete.
Saying this exercise could not be done in-house, McDonald said she hired a team of five people from outside her ministry to do the job.
“That team goes from door to door to establish who are those persons living in some of these apartments.”
She added this team, which is led by an engineer, was established before she went on leave, and so far has found there are a lot of people are occupying government’s property and they have long demitted office.”
These people, McDonald continued, have occupied these properties under the People’s National Movement, United National Congress and National Alliance for Reconstruction administrations during the last 20 years.
She explained the properties have been made available to various public office-holders over the years. When they reach 60, McDonald said, they are supposed to vacate these state-owned houses, but some of them stayed on.
“What they are doing, is they are trying to wait the Government out. Some of them are there 15-20 years.”
She added that they pay no rent or maintenance fees. At Flagstaff Hill, McDonald said the maintenance fee is $550 a month.
She claimed some of these people are former permanent secretaries.
“They don’t only occupy– they bring their children. So if they move out, they put their children inside of there.”
McDonald said she has been charged with the “responsibility to put mechanisms in place and inform Cabinet of the status of these properties.”
Describing this as a “mammoth exercise,” McDonald said she hopes to complete it by December 31.
In addition to the properties already reviewed, she said there are similar properties in places such as Caroni and Centeno which must be looked at. Citing the National Security and Agriculture Ministries as examples, she explained properties assigned to other government ministries are owned by the Public Administration Ministry.
She added the ministry also has properties down the islands too.
The exercise may never net the exact number of residential properties owned by the State, but McDonald said it should give an estimate.
While she may give recommendations, McDonald said Cabinet will take the final decision about what will be done with the properties.
She identified public service reform as another priority for the ministry.
“There are some low-hanging fruit that I would want to achieve by year-end. So I am going to throw my all into it,” McDonald added.
She said she would welcome as much help as she could get.