Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Gordon Robinson | National Housing Trick

Published:Tuesday | May 24, 2016 | 5:03 AMGordon Robinson

 

No government agency epitomises the urgent need for constitutional reform better than the NHT.

One of Jamaica's most idealistic government policies resulted in NHT's creation in 1976 for ONE purpose only: "to address the housing shortage which resulted from a growing population and the inadequate annual output of houses by the public and private sectors". (http://www.digjamaica.com/directories/view/government_of_jamaica/nationa...).

How that ideal has been distorted, mauled, obscured and obliterated over the decades can be measured by a recent proposal myopic at worst, comic at best which suggested as follows: "Relinquish housing construction: The NHT should withdraw from the direct construction of housing, in which it has no advantage over the private sector."

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel would call this "a clear consciousness of an eternal agility, of the infinitely abundant chaos" (aka, extreme irony).

A magnificent, national, self-reliant plan, on which both Michael Manley and Edward Seaga agreed, to address the private sector's inadequate supply of housing solutions for the poor now attracts critique that the construction of poor people's housing must be returned to the private sector. This must be the Guy Lombardo Show!

The proposal, together with others at least as foolish (solve poor people's inability to own their own homes by handing out 'rental vouchers'?), made by an organisation naming itself after a 1960s Ford Motor Car, ignores the reasons for the NHT's abject failure to date, which leads it to propose a return to a system that failed 40 years ago.

If only our public commentators, especially economists, would take their noses out of textbooks and smell the pit latrines of life, maybe they might start making sense.

 

Politics

 

The decline of the NHT came about because of the politicisation of the organisation.

Unless we cure THAT, no number of textbook-driven proposals will help. A lot of rot was disseminated, around the time of Outameni, about what the NHT can and cannot do, but the FACT is that the NHT is only supposed to attack the absence of housing solutions for the poor by:

(a) adding to, and improving, the country's existing supply of housing; and

(b)promoting greater efficiency in the housing sector.

That's it. That's all. All else is to assist the NHT to get to those important ends. Instead, the agency has been handed over to a series of political hacks who permitted the Trust's funds to be hijacked to supplement the education budget; for 'fiscal consolidation'; and various other unauthorised and, in my opinion, unconstitutional purposes.

As the Ford Motor Car noted:

"Non-housing expenditures include transfers, amounting to more than J$5 billion to the Ministry of Education and J$11.4 billion annually from 2014 to 2017 to the Ministry of Finance. Other non-housing expenditures include the construction and maintenance of Kingston's Emancipation Park, the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium, and the Montego Bay Convention Centre. In addition, non-housing investments of J$2 billion were made in business ventures such as Jamaica Lifestyle Village, Central Waste Water Treatment Company and Harmonisation Limited. Finally, there was the controversial J$200-million purchase of the Outameni Experience attraction in Trelawny."

That's $52.8 BILLION (or 42% of the Trust's accumulated capital) unlawfully diverted from the provision of housing for the poor to various political imperatives. How many housing solutions can be found at the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium or Emancipation Park? Every time Government wants to raid the NHT, it gives us the same argument now put forward by Ford Motor Car, namely NHT has too much money.

Ford Motor Car correctly points out that higher-income NHT contributors have received twice the benefits of lower income contributors who can't afford the mortgages. But why must lower-income contributors pay mortgages? What's the purpose of their contribution if not to help fund a pool to build houses for THEM? Why doesn't the NHT live up to its mandate; seek interest repayments only from high-income earners; and build homes for the poor on the basis of sweat equity when available; or non-refund of contributions when not?

We knew, in 1976, that the private sector would never provide housing solutions for the poor, hence Government took a socialist policy decision to use staggered contributions from all citizens in the workforce to enable Government to do so.

Abdicating that duty for a paradoxical plan to return responsibility to private sector is the coward's way out. Agencies like the NHT must be specifically protected from central government raids by the constitutional restrictions on executive action and by creative enforcement by our courts applying a Jamaican jurisprudence for an evolving Jamaican society. Peace and love.

• Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.