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Column: Shortcomings of the NHT, Ministry of Industry US$5b logistics hub

Published:Friday | April 24, 2015 | 4:00 AM
Minister of Industry Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton.

On April 1, 2015, All Fool's Day, the banner headline in one of our two daily newspapers wailed: 'We Failed! Industry ministry admits shortcomings in implementing gov't policies'.

The Daily Observer disclosed that this true but very sad admission was made by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce (MIIC), Dr Vivian Brown, a day earlier as he testified before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the House of Representatives.

The bold headline did not surprise me, nor, I guess, many who have been watching for the emergence of growth-facilitation policies from this ministry in the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government that is supposed to be the spearhead of economic growth. Well, the good Dr Brown had to admit under parliamentary questioning that the concerns raised by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis were true. The MIIC had not been monitoring and evaluating effectively the implementation of government policies.

It was not reported as to whether or not the MIIC had in fact formulated even one policy to facilitate economic growth in the country - even as the Ministry of Finance squeezes every penny out of Jamaicans to meet the uniquely high 7.5 per cent primary balance target of the IMF.

Even if such a single policy was conceived in the last three years by this hapless ministry, the embattled permanent secretary made this damming admission: "The MIIC has not been sufficiently vigorous and insistent in having its departments and agencies submit not only annual performance reports, but also quarterly performance reports. This has been part of the weakness of the corporate planning and monitoring and evaluation capacity and will be addressed going forward".

CRACKS IN GOVERNANCE

While Permanent Secretary Dr Brown has confessed to a lack of vigour in his ministry's performance, his announcement-happy minister has, once again, been found wanting in professional rigour.

Minister Anthony Hylton announced in March to Jamaica and the world, at the international-investment conference in Montego Bay, that he will be bringing investments in excess of US$5 billion to Jamaica's also-announced-but-not-seen logistics hub.

Last week, he announced that the signing of the MOU between him and executives from Krauck Systems and Anchor Financial Group would take place on Monday of this week.

That signing announcement landed Minister Hylton in some really hot political and reputational waters. When persons tried to get information by the Internet on these two really substantial companies, which would be investing such a large sum of money in Jamaica - and clearly great positives for economic growth - one did not have a workable website or telephone number. The other referred some callers to the prime minister!

Minister Hylton came under heavy criticism for misleading growth-starved Jamaicans about his possible investment. Crucially, he also misled his head of Cabinet, the prime minister, and had her mouthing off the US$5-billion figure. It is embarrassing to hear the clip of the misled lady stating the figure and encouraging 'full speed ahead'.

Cabinet clearly had enough and appointed two senior ministers with PhDs - Peter Phillips and Omar Davies - to act as minders, hand-holders and speech controllers to Anthony Hylton, who has to be seen as careless and announcement-happy, or worse.

By Wednesday mid-morning, after Hylton had done a late Nicodemus-like signing and release of the MOU by Tuesday night, he was on the air saying that the Krauck Systems and Anchor Financial Group LLC MOU process will not end up like the EWI debacle.

That was a direct, fulsome and denigrating swipe at his Cabinet colleague Phillip Paulwell.

An abject lack of professional rigour is causing cracks in Prime Minister Simpson Miller's Cabinet and they are coming into public view. Just imagine this: the PNP Government signs a US$5-billion MOU for projects and no photo ops? Cabinet does not think highly of this deal and document.

AG CONFIRMS NHT FAILURE

By Wednesday this week, the auditor general was back in a banner front page Gleaner headline with a declaration of 'NHT wastage'.

We all knew that, instinctively; Pamela Monroe Ellis simply confirmed it. On just three projects - Jamaica Lifestyle Village, Central Wastewater Treatment Company and Harmonisation Limited - the NHT had invested a whopping J$2 billion in non-income-producing assets. They don't make a penny for the Jamaican taxpayers, whose money the board used to invest in these non-housing assets.

When we add in Outameni, which amounts to a bailout of almost J$300 million for a well-known PNP supporter and local financial institution, one realises how quite indifferent and callous the board of the NHT has been towards hundreds of thousands of mainly poor Jamaican contributors to the NHT. It's a good guess that there are other non-income-producing assets like these at the NHT.

So the main growth ministry - MIIC - and its minister have failed consistently and significantly. The energy minister is in that club, and so is the NHT. The failure in these critical areas - industry and investment, housing and energy - is quite tragic for Jamaica, for these three are the focal points of growth in the economy.

The bigger failure is that the leadership of the Government does not seem to grasp this fact.

Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader.

Email: writerhill@gmail.com

Twitter: @hillaubyn

Facebook: facebook.com/hillaubyn