Saturday, June 17, 2006


Little and large

Over the last four weeks the project office in West Mezzeh has been beset by minor but exasperating infrastructure problems.  The addition of a new member of staff plus the need to replace a dead PC has involved us in upgrading the wireless network, which far from improving matters made them worse – after further tuning, email is still unreliable, and one shared printer is out of commission until it can be re-programmed.  The mains power has been giving constant problems (three separate circuits have been discovered), as also has the telephone circuitry. 

The car is still not clear of its tour of government offices awaiting final paperwork.  It appears that some clerical error at an earlier stage is requiring more administrative work now.  It has also suffered a bump while parked outside the office, and as insurance had not been taken out by FIRDOS while they reviewed suppliers, we have been obliged to pay for repairs.  Medical insurances for staff have lapsed for the same reason.

On a less prosaic scale, we are in something of a circular process at present.  Until our institutional status is resolved, the project cannot properly assume and manage its own budget.  It cannot, for example, contract legally with third parties.  There is therefore lack of clarity about how the non-CI-fee expenditure planned for the remainder of 2006 (investment in new offices, architectural selection process costs, engineering studies, production of fundraising materials, etc) should be commissioned and paid for.  Continuing to do this via FIRDOS seems clumsy, and will need this activity and budget to be agreed with them, but may be necessary.

Also awaiting resolution of the institutional status question are government funding and fundraising; neither of these can move towards completion without mechanisms of governance in place and practicalities like bank accounts and financial management system.

We are also working on the assumption that the Governor will require a formally established body with which to enter any contract for management of the redevelopment of the site.

There was some excitement in the recent meeting with HE Dr Dardari when he stated that he had seen a document allocating an area of 120,000m2 to this project – not on the OIF site.   We were unaware.  He has promised to send the relevant papers, but so far these have not been received.  Our suspicion is that it must be the OIF site as the area is exactly the same – to be confirmed.

Update as of 17 June: work in background progressing.  Nobles Palace may claim damages if removed, which should be at a time to suit project schedule.

The underground car park proposal remains to be clarified.  Mazen Azmeh’s view is that it would be better omitted from the site altogether.  As it throws up aesthetic, planning, management and logistical issues, we are ready to agree, but the potential of a revenue stream for the site from parking charges should be taken into account. He has also discounted the Terms of reference document produced for the previous Governor by Dr Youssef Diab.

Rental term on the current office expires in September, so Majed Hijazi has been scouting alternatives.  We have now confirmed to the agents that we will rent an apartment in Abou Roumani to use as offices from now onwards until 2009, with an option to extend for a year into 2010.  It is conveniently close to the OIF site.  We have looked at nine other possible premises, none as good as this one, and mostly more expensive.  This space is 380m2, so around twice the size of the current apartment, newly redecorated as a dwelling but very practical and usable as offices.  It needs nothing cosmetic done to it to make it habitable, unlike many we have visited, although we are discussing with the agents whether they will carry out work for telephones and IT network as part of their building work.  We are awaiting confirmation whether we should pay all three years’ rent in advance, which would gain us a small discount over the normal rate of $50,000 per annum.  As normal, there are limitations on what we can do to make permanent structural alterations and fixtures.Pro tem, we intend to make do with the furniture we already use.

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