Government Administration Building remains empty: White Elephant remains a burdenPOSTED: 09/2/15 5:43 PM
St. Maarten – The new government administration building on Pond Island – aka the White Elephant with the Green Hat – is still waiting for its first civil servants. The interior of the building is not finished and yesterday nobody was working on it either.
Based on an overview of buildings in use by the government that is in the possession of this newspaper, 56 government departments are using real estate outside of the current governed administration building on Clem Labega Square.
Of fourteen buildings, the list today has in its possession mentions the value of the buildings. Their combined value is $251 million, including $2.6 million for the current government administration building.
Apart from the administrative departments, the list mentions five community centers, 28 schools, including the university, the prison (valued at $3.8 million) and the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay (valued at $2.7 million).
The police station in Philipsburg is with $8.4 million the most expensive piece of real estate.
All these values pale in comparison with the new government administration building. Developer RGM delivered the building in 2008 and from that moment on forward the government has been in a bind with the project. Starting in the last quarter of 2007, St. Maarten paid $481,000 in quarterly lease fees to the developer. By the time the country bought the project from RGM in July 2014 for $12,387,500, it had paid 27 quarterly lease fees for a total of $12,978,000 – bringing the total cost for the unfinished building to $25.3 million, excluding the costs for countless court battles with the developer.
MP Wescot-Williams – at the time prime minister and minister of general affairs, said in July of last year that finishing the building would require another $13.4 million (24 million guilders),
The government obtained a 40 million guilders ($22.3 million) loan for the buy-out and for finishing the building. Wescot-Williams said at the time that this would be sufficient to complete the job, though Finance Minister Martin Hassink later mentioned 50 to 55 million guilders ($27.9 to $30.7 million) as a more realistic number.
After the buy-out, there is $9,912,500 left to finish the interior of the building and that is even by the optimistic estimate of Wescot-Williams almost $3.5 million short. If we follow Minister Hassink’s estimate, the shortfall is even larger – in the worst case scenario $8.4 million more, putting the total shortfall on the loan at $11.8 million and the total cost of the building upon completion at $37.1 million – a far cry from the $16.2 million it cost RGM to construct the shell of the building.
In its current state, the building is far from ready as a place to work, though partition walls have been put in place. But the infrastructure – IT and telecom – is still missing, and the surroundings of the building are eagerly awaiting some landscaping. Exterior shutters have already fallen in disrepair – no surprise for a building that has been standing empty for seven years.
In July of last year, then Prime Minister Wescot-Williams said that she wanted to move into the building “as soon as possible.” With no sign of anything happening, that turns out to be once more a very flexible expression.
In January of last, year, after the November 2013 court ruling that ordered the government to move into the building within twelve months, the government said in answer to questions from MP Frans Richardson that the work on the interior of the building would be completed “in August or September.”
One year further down the road, civil servants are still waiting to move into their new digs.