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Govt set to move into Richmond St Buildings
Occupation of the Government Campus, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain, is expected to begin from year-end while problems at the Immigration and Inland Revenue buildings are being regularised in the short-term, says Finance Minister Larry Howai. Speaking at yesterday’s weekly government media briefing, Howai noted recent problems experienced by members of the public in accessing the Inland Revenue Building and other offices hit by industrial action.
The Public Service Association (PSA), Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) and other government office staffers recently have been protesting the condition of various buildings. The PSA claims the buildings do not meet Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) rules. Staff took action over the busy March-April period when tax returns were being submitted by the public. The Immigration Division also was affected. Howai said $1.3 billion was allocated in the 2013-2014 budget for completion of the Government Campus which was built by the PNM administration. The allocation would be spent over the next 12 to 15 months, he added.
On why work had not started, he said Government was working with a deficit budget and had to prioritise. Howai also noted the government campus had been unfinished for some time and had some deterioration and outfitting issues. He said his ministry had approved funding for the work to be done and the request for proposals was issued on a phased basis for the different aspects. Those included the Legal Affairs Tower, Inland Revenue Unit and Customs building, he added. Howai said the campus, starting with the Customs building, was expected to be completed by year-end on a phased basis. He said work on the Customs building had already started and occupation was expected by the last quarter of the year.
Over the next year and up to the end of next year, it was also expected the different government departments would be moving into the complex and “we should be able to bring all these issues to conclusion,” he added. Howai said he expected the OSH problems at the immigration and BIR buildings to be completely regularised in the short-term. “In the next few months we expect to see a considerable improvement, not only at the Inland Revenue and Immigration over the longer term but also at NIB offices and others government divisions occupy,” he added.
Howai said the National Security Minister had taken steps to address problems with the Immigration Department to ensure OSH compliance.
He said staff would work from 8 am to 1 pm to allow for the expediting of structural work. Cabinet also has approved funding to complete work that needed to be done at BIR’s 20 offices throughout T&T. Howai said VAT administration officers were removed to the Finance Ministry building. Works at the Treasury Building would be completed within the next two weeks, he said.
Another ministry unit, Victoria Court, had been completed and work at Trinidad House and all required approvals there, were expected to be completed by the first week of next month, he added. Howai said $15 million would be invested to upgrade BIR’s information technology systems to enhance online inter-action with the public and another $15 million would fund a security system to upgrade and safeguard taxpayers’ information. He said he also visited National Insurance Board offices to ensure an upgrade of NIB offices, which he noted had special customers, such as the ill, elderly, retired and pregnant.