The matter of occupants living in Government owned buildings in Region 4 and not paying rent came up before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, and Regional Executive Officer Pauline Lucas was asked to account.
The Auditor General found in 2016 that out of 300 buildings owned by the Region 4 administration, 132 were occupied, while only 26 of these occupants were actually paying rent.
Moreover, the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) has since been called in to assist in the eviction of those not paying rent.
The Auditor General had noted that occupants included individuals from Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) and TOPCO.
Committee Chairman Irfaan Ali observed that if the tables were turned, squatters would have been thrown out. He therefore expressed dissatisfaction with the situation.
Lucas revealed that in addition to the guidance from the Auditor General’s findings, she asked SARA to get involved in the matter since last year.
Committee Member Nigel Dharamlall made the observation that instead of going to the Attorney General, she approached SARA. He therefore questioned why the AG Chambers was not approached, as the entity with responsibility for legally defending the state.
“SARA first came to me,” the REO replied. “SARA came to me for assistance. I needed assistance, and that is why I asked them. SARA came to examine some buildings in my region. They wanted a list of all the buildings, and I furnished them the information; and during the discussion, I asked for assistance.”
But when Dharamlall asked for an update on SARA’s involvement, Lucas revealed that there has been no progress on the matter. She noted that there have been several instances when she discussed the matter with them.
According to Civil Service Law, 2004 public service rules, “Government quarters provided to public servants as a condition of service, eg in the case of hospital staff where presence on a hospital compound may be required on a continuous basis, shall be free of rent.”
It goes on to state that: “in lieu of quarters, a house allowance may, with the approval of the Permanent Secretary, Public Service Ministry, be granted to a public servant who is entitled to free quarters but for whom quarters are not available.”
It is understood that for unfurnished quarters, an employee who does pay rent is required to pay 10 per cent of his or her salary, while the requirement for a furnished apartment is 12 per cent of that employee’s pay.
When Auditor General Deodat Sharma flagged the issue in his report in 2016, he could not verify that they were entitled to rent free accommodation. He had therefore recommended “that the Regional Administration take steps to ensure all outstanding amounts for rent are collected and deposited into the Consolidated Fund.” (Jarryl Bryan)