Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Out of many, one big problem

Published:Monday | December 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

When The Gleaner article, 'NHT diversifies into attractions market, acquires Outameni for $180m', came out on October 29, 2014, sparks immediately began to fly. The glowing, red-hot embers spread far and wide and ignited several angry flames across the width and breadth of society.

Comments of 'bailout', misuse of taxpayers' money, and accusations of the board going outside of the National Housing Trust mandate spread like wildfire.

We were told several things. We heard that the NHT was purchasing the Outameni Experience attraction to run it as an investment (even though it was badly in the red). Then we heard that the NHT had it in mind to reproduce another Emancipation Park-like concept on the property with some housing development on it.

Then we heard that the NHT did not buy Outameni; it bought the great house and Orange Grove property on which the attraction stands. Then we heard that the NHT bought the property and some of the necessary chattels that went along with the attraction - but not the attraction or the rights to the attraction.

Then we heard that the NHT bought the property, the great house, the chattels and intends to purchase Outameni and the rights to run it as an attraction. Then we heard that this all started years ago when the place ran into severe financial difficulties and Prime Minister Bruce Golding was approached to see if the Government would take over the place.

too many stories

Then we heard that it was really the sister of the owner who approached the prime minister, but that came to naught, although it was recently reported that some in that administration saw the place as a promising tourist attraction (and, therefore, should be 'rescued' and developed under the tourism portfolio).

Then we heard that several board members were absent when that significant decision was made. And we heard that it was the norm not to inform Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of NHT plans and actions.

And, finally (so far), we heard from the prime minister in an Observer quote saying, "... The total expenditure for purchase of the buildings, including a great house and land, chattels and associated costs in relation to the sale totalled $208,256,713."

But we have not heard if a proper feasibility study was done and by whom. We also have not heard if the expected profit will outstrip the constant inflow of contributions (taxes) and, therefore, make the purchase worthwhile.

Out of the many emergent issues with Outameni, there is really one huge problem behind everything: a lack of trust and confidence in our politicians and in our public figures.

negativity

In spite of this, the Government is probably not overly concerned about the negativity generated by this NHT purchase, even though the prevailing public opinion is that the NHT constantly receives billions in mandatory contributions (taxes) that should rule out the need for huge, risky investments, thus rendering the purchase unjustified.

And, although most people suspect that there is more to this deal and feel strongly that the NHT should have used that money to reduce its mortgage rates and also provide very cheap or free housing for the poor/needy, it does not really matter in the long run for three very important reasons:

(1) Jamaicans see very little difference between the two major political parties. They expect that whatever 'sin' one commits, the other would do the same or something similar. Although it's not likely true, the general perception is that many politicians on both sides of the political divide are opportunists with malleable morals.

(2) The voters have very short memories for ethical breaches. They either quickly forget or lessen the impact of the questionable or negative actions of our public figures.

(3) Many voters chose their representative based on party affiliation or on enlightened self-interest.

So, in short, because of politics, we will never get the accountability that we seek and the answers that we deserve.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.