Column: OBA On DCFS Office Relocation Cost

February 21, 2021 | 2 Comments

[Opinion column written by OBA Senator Robin Tucker]

Recently there has been discussion in the media around the PLP’s surprising decision to relocate the Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] from offices on Victoria Street, where annually DCFS was paying less than $300,000 in rent, to offices in 131 Front Street, a building owned by PLP MP Zane DeSilva and his family. DCFS will now pay about $800,000 a year in MP DeSilva’s building, an annual increase of $388,079.

I think that we, the public, require a comprehensive explanation as to whether Government’s 5-year commitment to paying $4 million in rent payments to Mr. DeSilva’s company is the best way for the Government to spend our money? This is a fair question because every cent that we entrust to the Government to manage belongs to us. As taxpayers, we have every right to question how our money is being spent. This is a basic part of ensuring that those we elect to represent us are held accountable.

So, is this really the best use of our money? And why are additional monies being spent on rent? Why couldn’t those funds be used to assist our children in a more tangible way?

There are many more important needs at DCFS, like improvements to the boys and girls residential homes, or providing full support and assistance to persons aging out of foster care. What about staffing needs? Or how about providing greater assistance to foster parents and the children cared for in our Foster Care system? Foster Care has serious needs that would benefit greatly from additional funding.

In a May 2020 interview, Director of Child and Family Services, Alfred Maybury, thanked upwards of 72 foster parents who are currently caring for 68 Bermudian children. In his address, Mr Maybury gave special thanks to the Foster Parents Association [FPA] saying “[t]he Department is grateful for their ongoing assistance to foster parents and DCFS staff.

The FPA provides funding for foster youth; such as furniture, laptops, scholarship funding, instruments, assistance with educational travel etc.” The FPA is a charity that receives donations and provides valuable assistance to our foster children and foster parents. Rather than spend $4 million dollars to rent the DeSilva family building, couldn’t some of the funds have been used to bolster the Foster Care system or for other DCFS services?

DCFS’s many dedicated men and women provide many essential services benefitting our community. They undeniably need an appropriate workplace to effectively conduct their services. Minister Burch was quoted as saying “After years of being ill-housed and unable to meet basic international standards for core functions, 131 Front Street is ideal as it provides adequate space for the entire department, including the security of underground access, a suitably modern technological interface, and vitally, a secure space for the Sexual Assault Response Team to conduct investigations to international standards…[t]he site presents value for money.”

I ask how much more value are we, the public, going to get over the next 5 years from renting a $4 million office space that we couldn’t get from DCFS’s previous locations?

While having everyone under one roof may be preferred, at least according to the UK experts Minister Burch referenced, I wonder whether separation of services actually reduces the risk of unintentional exposure and mitigates against unintended risks?

We are such a closely-connected community, where we know each other, so given the sensitivity around the various services offered by DCFS, might the consolidation of services under one roof present disadvantages? For example, a social worker investigating an issue might cross paths with an intercessor working with the courts on the same case?

Even if there were legitimate needs to move DCFS, was any comparative shopping conducted by Minister Burch to see if other buildings could be rented to facilitate DCFS’s needs at a much lower cost than $4 million dollars?

Are all the current Government spaces being used? Office space may be found as low as $30-$40 per square feet. With almost 1M square feet of office space vacant in the city of Hamilton, can this move to Zane DeSilva’s building really be justified by Minister Burch and the PLP Government?

If, as Minister Burch says, DCFS was moved to ensure that funds contributing to historic wealth are redirected, then were inquires made to rent space in the economic empowerment zone in North Hamilton? Or what about the Brangman family’s building on Reid Street? If not, why not?

Also, why was it necessary for the PLP to make such a costly move at this time, when the island is in economic crisis? DCFS has been functioning from five separate locations for years, so why did it become necessary to move to MP DeSilva’s building now, when we do not have a dollar to spare? This is an extra $400,000 of public money being handed out each year.

Don’t most of us have to decide what we can afford before spending our cash? At least that’s how it works for most of us. Why should this Government be any different? That is, unless we allow charities like Foster Parents Association to take up the slack. And yet now the Government has changed the law so charities will be losing out on donations, which will be directed to the unions instead. Maybe the unions can help?

- Robin Tucker

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Comments (2)

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  1. Bermudian says:

    Some excellenbt observations.
    But you are forgettng the LP’s “friends and families” mantra.

  2. Warrior says:

    This is once again tge PLP supporting membership. Why not use the lied about Fintech Coompany building. Only tenants there are weeds, spiders, church worms and ants. Could be a few roaches as well. Misuse of funds, definitely.

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