The world’s most expensive public service is a mess
A hasty renovation
According to a project presentation by Pablo José González Hernández, then executive director of the Bandes Development Fund, and Edmeé Betancourt, then president of the bank, the redevelopment of the office was a requirement to “comply with the provisions of the agreement on the large-volume and long-term financing “which” establishes the establishment of a joint China-Venezuela office “.
However, in this plan, published in Official Gazette 39.511, there is no specific mention of the extravagant cost the office would need to follow up on projects resulting from the second $ 20 billion grant fund, signed on September 10. 2010. In fact, the documents twice indicate that the space belonged to the management headed by Gónzalez Hernández, when in fact it was an area already reserved for the administration of the China Fund.
The renovation work was carried out “in a hurry”, from September, with the reopening date set for November 2, 2010. The common office was finally reopened on the evening of Friday, December 17. The ceremony took place in the presence of the Minister of Planning and Finance Jorge Giordani, who underlined the creation of a place of “strict monitoring of the progress of the projects agreed between the two countries”. It constituted, as he said in his speech, “an element of greater security and peace of mind for the Chinese partners and for the Venezuelan government”.
At this point, the budgets for the works financed by the common funds had to be approved by the Chinese authorities and most of the contracts went directly to Chinese state-owned enterprises such as Sinohydro, Citic Construction or China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC).
The Chamber of Secrets
Access to the China-Venezuela joint office is restricted. If someone informs the reception of Centro Financiero Latino that they are going to the 23rd floor (where the office is located), security warns that “only authorized personnel” can go there. But once inside, it is possible to access this floor and see a space divided into three offices that have a combined footprint of 633 square meters.
It was an area inaccessible even to members of the staff of Bandes, which is headquartered near the Oficina Conjunta, on another avenue in central Caracas. A former bank clerk says it was all very “airtight and delicate”. In the hall you can see a painting of a horse and a long dark brown sofa with a broken arm. Foam padding pops out discreetly. On either side are four wooden chairs matched to a large table with elegant legs, on which rest four solitary books of Venezuelan government propaganda.The furnishings contrast sharply with the typical gray secretarial booth and the metal and plastic seats of the reception area.
It is in this reception room that the only signs of life appear. Between the flags of China and Venezuela on the flagpole and under the name of the pact, there survives an aloe vera bush in a clay pot with a red ribbon tied to one of its stems. Next to it is another sad-looking plant of tropical origin. These plants are the luckiest. In the neighboring pots, only hard, dry soil remains.
The interior of the Joint Office is less luminous. Footsteps click as you walk along its unoccupied spaces. Some lamps flicker, just enough to notice the dirt stains on the lower part of the white walls. A homemade shower towel hangs from one of the doors in the women’s bedroom, and in the men’s bedroom there is an open dishwasher with a sponge at the top that doubles as a hand washing soap. and maybe lunch boxes.
The other two large office surfaces on the 23rd floor are dark. From the hallway outside it gives the impression of being derelict, almost devoid of decorative items and basic furnishings that appear to have been installed in a recent move.
The cost per square meter of this office, in the heart of Venezuela’s capital – a country plunged into an economic crisis unprecedented in a country – was US $ 259,000, nine times that of Hong Kong, considered the most expensive price of office space per square meter anywhere in the world, according to the Global Property Guide.