Sat | May 25, 2019

Devon Dick | Well done, Dirk Harrison

Published:Thursday | May 16, 2019 | 1:44 AM
Dirk Harrison

Well done, Dirk Harrison, former contractor general, with the 42-page report of the investigation into the sale of Rooms on the Beach by Montego Beach (1975) to Puerto Caribe Properties Ltd and sale of beach lands by Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to Puerto Caribe! Your argument and supporting evidence that the government went against stated goal to ‘optimise income’ (p 32) were rigorous and convincing.

Harrison believes the property should have been sold at the market value of US$11.8 million at lower end, or US$13.5 million at the upper end, and not the US$7.2 million.

To buttress his conclusion, Harrison commended Hope Blake, deputy financial secretary of the Ministry of Finance, who, in a letter of November 10, 2016, raised concern about ‘integrity of revenues’ being preserved (p 2 & 15). She also raised concern about whether the sale might be in ‘contravention’ of the government’s draft beach policy (p15).

The practice of the UDC is to use the average of the valuations to arrive at a sale price (p 6). The contractor general even argued that UDC should have stood its ground and insisted on the US$9 million (p 25) which was its asking price, though still a discount. The documented position of UDC as of June 2016 was for lease and not sale. But, can we sell beach lands? Why give up a steady income stream?

The contractor general quotes minutes of the UDC board meeting of November 2, 2016 which states that a few directors expressed concern with the sale as well as with the effect of “decisions taken without input of the board” (p14). There is also another letter from the UDC (Oct 25, 2016) which states “Negotiations were conducted at ministerial level based on the strategic investment for national development” (p17). Furthermore, the unsigned minutes of UDC claims that the minister said the US$6 million was low and “the ministry would be meeting with them and negotiating to increase the offer” (p11). Board minutes (Oct 13, 2016) states “both the PM and Minister Vaz have agreed to the sale at the amount indicated”. What is hard to understand in these quotations?

And curiously, Winston Dear, director of UDC, sides with Vaz in a letter to The Gleaner (May 6). However, why has Dear usurped the role of the chairman of UDC who should be the one to speak on behalf of the board?

Harrison quoted extensively the denials by the PM and Minister Vaz (p 24). It was stated that the PM and minister Vaz agreed to the sale (p 12) but the PM said no. Vaz said he had ‘nothing’ to do with the sale (p 25).

The former contractor general concludes that this was prime property and they should have negotiated from a position of strength. The art of the deal is to get the market value as well as the plans to develop the area to the tune of US$200 million. Both are not mutually exclusive.

The former contractor general did not make any allegation of corruption or any collusion between the minister and Moon Palace, nor of government officials lying. The allegation seems to be one of incompetence and ministerial interference.

The board approved the deal (p 13), but did not negotiate it. Similarly, Cabinet approved it (p 14), but did not negotiate it. What other interpretation can there be?

The former contractor general recommended that a cost benefit analysis should be done and a divestment team handle such transactions (p 26). This makes eminent sense. Furthermore, I would like to hear whether the sale was contrary to the government’s beach policy.

Hope others will say to Dirk Harrison, ‘well done thou good and faithful servant’, but let it not be a signal to bury him.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com