The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) has received over 1,000 applications for the 23 vacancies which it recently advertised, according to Chief Executive Officer Aubrey Heath-Retemyer.
“We believe that once the recruitment is finished, we should have the complement of staff with the capabilities of advancing the cases,” Heath-Retemyer told Stabroek News in a recent interview.
He stressed that SARA is anxious to get everything in place, particularly because “we have had a supplementary budget and we would like to be able to demonstrate that we can use the supplementary budget properly.”
However, Heath-Retemyer said that while preparations are being made to hire key staff members, the entity is encountering difficulties in finding a suitable building.
“It is that housing that will allow you to employ people and find space for them. It is that housing that will allow you to purchase equipment that would be useful to whatever you want to do,” he explained.
The National Assembly has already approved supplementary funds for the monthly rental of a building for SARA, which is presently being housed in the compound of the Ministry of the Presidency.
“…We are desperately looking for a building that would be secure, that will have the relevant fittings… space and in a location that would be convenient for us… to bring in people for interviews, questioning, receiving international partners…,” Heath-Retemyer said.
He admitted that problems are being encountered and noted that while several buildings have been identified, many of them “are not complete… we [would] have to spend quite some time fixing them or having the owners fixing them.”
According to Heath-Retemyer, the agency has identified one building that is ready but “we have some problems getting consent and I don’t to go into the details but right now we have to make the decision …the people are going to be recruited and we have to find some place to put them.”
He stressed that the delay in finding a building will clearly affect the operations of the agency because “you have to get everything done according to regulations. We can’t flout the regulations …and it is taking time. It’s just the natural bureaucracy of governments.”
In June, he had explained that because of limited space and the fact that the agency wants to be independent, efforts were being made to relocate. He had also indicated that a building would be a long term consideration.
During the interview with Stabrok News last week, Heath-Retemyer said that the sum given for the rental of a building is an estimate in keeping with current market prices and it is unclear if they will have to rent a floor or an entire building.
PPP/C Member of Parliament Juan Edghill, during a press conference in August, days after the supplementary allocation was approved for SARA, had expressed concern about the rental amount.
“We don’t know where it is yet but we know it is US$8,000 per month to rent it,” he had said.
Asked about this concern, Heath-Retemyer said that the opposition says a lot of things but “the opposition did not leave very many government buildings. I don’t see any evidence of the opposition while in office making the kinds of preparation for housing government agencies and ministries.”
He said that it is because of this failure that the present government has to spend large sums to rent buildings. The PPP/C, he added, was in office for 23 years and did not build in a systematic way enough capacity to house the various ministries. “…Their programme in that area was very weak,” he said, before adding that the former government was instead prepared to rent from people it was friendly with.
Heath-Retemyer added that the agency has to pay competitive rates. “With the coming oil boom, there are a number of companies and individuals who are coming and asking for space and we are required to compete with them for the same space. So you do the due diligence to ensure that you aren’t paying more per square footage than average,” he said, before adding that the figure that was approved was just an average.
“We are now faced with the fact that as much as you are anxious when you are going to rent a building, there are all kinds of considerations that you have to employ, especially in the case of SARA. We have to be a lot more careful than other agencies. An agency that may go and rent a building …and based on what they are required to do, it may not raise an issue. If we are renting buildings which are sometimes questionable, then we will have to answer some questions,” he added.