Investigate NHT purchase of Outameni
Linton Gordon, Guest Columnist
No matter how the Government tries, no explanation has been for forthcoming to justify the purchase of the failed and bankrupt Outameni attraction by the National Housing Trust (NHT). Easton Douglas, the man who is leading the charge at the NHT on behalf of the People's National Party (PNP) administration, is a former Cabinet minister and a PNP stalwart. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that Mr Douglas is very much aware that the NHT was established for the sole purpose of increasing the housing stock in Jamaica.
He should also be aware that thousands of Jamaicans who cannot qualify for housing mortgages at banks, building societies, credit unions and other financial intermediaries look to the NHT for a mortgage to assist them in owning a home.
It should be accepted that Mr Douglas is fully aware of this. It should also be accepted that the very knowledgeable, competent, experienced and capable Mr Douglas is fully aware that there are thousands of Jamaicans who are dreaming of owning a home and are looking to the NHT to assist them.
failed, bankrupt entity
Easton Douglas has informed us that the premises he has purchased consists of 10 acres. He said the purchase price was $180 million and he will be spending a further $111 million, inclusive of operational expenses, to rehabilitate the failed tourist attraction. Mr Douglas must have been aware that the Outameni attraction was a failed and bankrupt entity. We, therefore, need to ask in a frank and open way what factors influenced a man of Mr Douglas' stature to use the contributors' funds to purchase such an entity.
We should be prepared to accept that given his prudence, knowledge and skill, Mr Douglas would never have used his personal funds to purchase a failed and bankrupt entity. That question needs to be answered.
Mr Douglas needs to tell us how much of the 10 acres will be used for housing. My understanding is that the Outameni attraction occupies approximately three acres of the 10 acres. If this is so, the remaining space of seven acres is adequate to provide any significant housing solution. In any event, about two acres of the seven acres would likely be used for road and community space, which would, in effect, leave five acres for housing.
Are we to conclude that the leadership of the NHT is prepared to spend $291 million - and more if refurbishing costs are added - in order to have five acres of land available for housing developments?
If each housing lot on the five acres is the standard quarter acre, only 20 lots would be realised. Mr Douglas would have to sell these 20 housing lots for millions of dollars each to recover the NHT's outlay.
But to be fair to Mr Douglas, he has a solution. He tells us that the NHT will be operating the Outameni attraction and he has a firm and fierce intention to operate at profitability.
We are told that he will be assisted in this endeavour by a consultant. But guess who the consultant is? The person who was operating the Outameni attraction when it failed and went into bankruptcy!
Nobody can be comfortable with the purchase of Outameni by the NHT. There is no evidence that the NHT has the managerial skills to operate tourist attractions. There are no facts surrounding this transaction that remotely justify it.
The whole transaction should be placed before both the contractor general and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). We have been told that the goal of the MOCA is to "tackle serious organisational crime and to stamp out corruption in Jamaica". Mr Douglas should be most comfortable having these two agencies investigating this matter.
He has asserted in absolute confidence that the decision to purchase Outameni is in the interest of contributors to the NHT. He should, therefore, be confident that any and all investigations of the transaction will absolve him and confirm that the transaction is in the best interest of contributors.