Time to fix the rental issue once and for all


FOR State agencies to be locked out of their rented offices is no small embarrassment. Not only are public servants working in those offices inconvenienced but their clients, the public, are badly inconvenienced too.
In recent weeks a number of government departments and agencies have been ordered to vacate their rented offices.
The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Climate Change and the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority were locked out of their offices  this week because of unpaid rent.
The ministry and agency occupy the first floor of the bmobile building along Waigani Drive.
The rental arrears totalling several million kina date back to over a year and attempts to settle the arrears have been unsuccessful.  The property manager was forced to close the doors on the tenants, knowing well what such an action would entail.
Just last month the Public Solicitor’s Office at the Garden City complex in Boroko was closed to its occupants for the same reason. The explanation for the State’s inability to pay rent for the above agencies and a few more is because there was a genuine error in budgeting.
The explanation by the Finance Department was that when the 2017 budget figures were put together, someone was a little too optimistic that the refurbished Central Government Office and the Sir Manasupe Haus in Waigani would take in most of the public service agencies scattered all over town.
So the usual budgetary allocation for office rentals of the past years was slashed significantly. But the reality was that not all those agencies expected to fit into the refurbished buildings found space there, and it is understood that a few, for varying reasons, refused to relocate.
The advice by Finance Secretary Ken Ngangan that all rentals for state agencies will be paid before December when the 2017 supplementary budget appropriations become available, is reassuring though not good enough.
Businesses unfortunately do not operate the way government agencies do and that should be respected.
In light of the situation, the Department of Personnel Management is carrying out physical inspections of all buildings
housing government departments.
Once the physical inspection is completed, details of the leases including the costs involved will be presented to the Department of Finance.
A shortfall of K178 million in the 2017 budget has resulted in the current situation.
That should be rectified in the 2018 budget.
But more importantly, the State should rationalise its annual expenditure on office accommodation and ensure it gets its money’s worth in the output from its agencies occupying rented office accommodation. The audit done by the Department of Personnel Management should justify the spending of millions of kina annually on office rentals.
There is no justification for a government department or agency to rent two floors of high-end office accommodation, for example, and yet fail to perform its mandated roles and functions effectively.
The audit must result in a review of some existing lease agreements between property owners and the State with a view to finding alternatives which come at a reduced cost to the Sate.
The Government has obviously spent so much money on office rentals over the years and this cost must be reduced at some point.

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