Wed | Aug 15, 2018

The clowns just aren't funny anymore

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer Easton Douglas, NHT chairman. "How can a chairman who tacitly admits NHT exceeded its authority ... pre-empt his own prime minister by vowing not to resign before she can make any pronouncement remain?" asks Gordon Robinson.

The Outameni saga has developed into a full-blown comedy routine.

With Easton Douglas, Portia Simpson Miller and Sandrea Falconer as lead actors, punchlines keep on coming.

Don’t you love farce?

My fault I fear.

I thought that you’d want what I want.

Sorry, my dear.

But where are the clowns?

Quick, send in the clowns.

Don’t bother, they’re here.

Lest the perpetual spin confuses us, this was Easton Douglas on October 31: “When you look at … development in Trelawny, it’s a whole lot of housing. So what we’re doing is to engage in community development, providing a combination of facilities and a mix of uses that’ll contribute to the development of our human resources.”

As a proud member of the “articulate minority” expressly dismissed by supporting actor, Robert ‘Chicken Feed’ Pickersgill, as irrelevant, unnecessary nuisances, I’ll remind the majority (no doubt considered “inarticulate”, but useful as components of voter assembly lines) that “When you look at … development in Trelawny, it’s a whole lot of housing. So what we’re doing is … ” is an express admission that the property was NOT purchased for housing. Subsequent stand-up routines can’t change that. The comic timing’s off.

Isn’t it rich?

Isn’t it queer,

losing my timing this late

in my career?

And where are the clowns?

There ought to be clowns.

Well, maybe next year.

Let’s be clear. A statutory authority isn’t like you and me. We’re born of man and woman with the divine gift of free will. We can do anything once we set our minds to it. Statutory authorities like NHT don’t and can’t exist save by way of the statute that gives them ‘life’. They don’t have free will although staffed by humans who do. Created by statute, a statutory authority has no ‘mandate’, a word that’s been loosely thrown around by those wanting to spin NHT excesses into NHT compulsion. Statutory authorities can only do what they’re authorised to do by the statute that gave them birth.


The NHT’s statute allows it to add to, and improve, the existing housing supply (by building, lending to prospective homeowners, or the like) AND improve housing production. So, surprise, surprise, the HOUSING Trust is in the business of making HOUSES available. Because a statutory body can do NOTHING unless authorised, it’s not enough to merely set out its functions. The authority must have tools (powers) to undertake these functions. Otherwise, it won’t be able to accomplish its purpose.

So, the Trust is allowed to borrow and lend money; open bank accounts; invest, etc. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to build a single house. To ‘invest’ includes putting money in interest-bearing accounts or CDs or whatever until it can be used to provide mortgages, build houses or buy land for housing development – all related to its core functions.

The statute gives NHT power to “administer and invest the money of the Trust”. Do you need a legal expert to tell you this power isn’t given at large? Do you need a complicated legal opinion to understand this does NOT mean the Trust can buy Caymanas Park, or Iberostar, or “land and buildings” whose owner informed NHT has limited usage except as a bankrupt “heritage attraction”?

The Trust can buy property ONLY if its purpose is further-ance of its core functions. The Trust can buy property as a bare investment but ONLY if it intends to convert capital appreciation (projected, using sound commercial analysis, to be better than the interest a bank would offer) into cash AND if such realised capital appreciation is intended for the purpose of increased housing solutions or reinvestment to that end.


Easton Douglas insisted NHT bought Outameni “lock, stock and barrel”. The PM says NHT only bought property, which Sandrea Falconer, the de facto information minister who refuses to answer questions she doesn’t like, says means “lands and buildings”. Are they trying to confuse the inarticulate majority?

Most people think great God will come from the sky;

take away ev’rything, and make ev’rybody feel high.

But, if you know what life is worth,

you would look for yours on earth

and, now you see the light,

you stand up for your right ...!

But Easton Douglas specified the purchase’s PURPOSE had NOTHING to do with housing, which is an admission the purchase was, at least prima facie, ultra vires the act. He said the purchase’s purpose

was “to engage in community development, providing a combination of facilities and

a mix of uses ....” This is inconsistent with investment for capital appreciation to be realised and used for housing.

In Parliament, PM Portia said no houses would be built there. No problem IF the plan is to resell and build elsewhere. But, Douglas repeatedly rejects this. His most recent spin is an attempt to distinguish the purchase from being one of a “tourist attraction” to one used for “heritage”. But, NHT isn’t allowed to use property for heritage. If that’s the case, the purchase remains ultra vires and improper. But, Easton’s spin is illusory. Lennie Little-White’s letter described the “tourist attraction” as “a heritage attraction”. So, Easton’s distinction doesn’t compute. It only further entangles the web.

You can fool some people sometimes

but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

So, now we see the light,

we gonna stand up for our right.


So, without having to detail the commercial suicide this deal exemplifies, it’s pellucid it was NOT a proper exercise of NHT’s powers. In my opinion, because the purchaser is a statutory corporation which, to the vendor’s knowledge (the statute is public), abused its powers, the sale can be set aside and the people’s money returned to NHT.

But this isn’t even a possibility with an NHT board persistently insisting it has done nothing wrong. The only way such an avenue can be explored is by a completely new board freed from a need for self-defence. Four “new” members won’t cut it. I can’t imagine they believed they’d make a difference on a board retaining eight of the original directors involved in buying Outameni “lock, stock and barrel”. Their only purpose could be to legitimise and enable that board to do it again.

How can a director who believes anticipated capital appreciation is “profit” remain? How can a director who believes it’s NHT’s “best buy” remain? How can a chairman who tacitly admits NHT exceeded its authority, then digs his heels in and pre-empts his own prime minister by vowing not to resign before she can make any pronouncement remain? How can a director who accepts paper valuations as gospel when the property couldn’t even raise a bid at public auction remain?

Performances by this tragicomic production’s leading players, Easton, Portia and Sandrea, remind me of the 1960s story of two friends discussing one’s second-hand car purchase. One said to the other, “I bet you got a Faulkner.” “No,” was the reply. “I got a good deal.” Did Jamaica get a good deal? Or a Faulkner?

So you’d better get up, stand up! Stand up for your right.

Get up, stand up! Don’t give up the fight.


Send in the Clowns, written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical, A Little Night Music, was first sung in the play by Glynis Johns but made Sondheim’s most popular song when Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins recorded it in 1973 and 1975. My favourite cover version is by the brilliant Welsh songstress, Cleo Laine, who performed it live at Carnegie Hall in 1974. Get Up, Stand Up, made famous by Bob Marley and the Wailers, was written by Peter Tosh and Bob. Apologies for taking liberties with their lyrics:

We sick and tired of your ism schism game

tryin’ to go to Heaven in Portia’s name

Jamaicans mustn’t permit ‘Chicken Feed’ Pickersgill to create self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t “thaw out”. NHT is a cash-rich statutory body during a time of severe austerity. We’re approaching elections. Are we going to allow NHT to become a political slush fund, or are we going to get up, stand up and insist public servants who’ve lost our confidence pack their bags and go?

Peace and love.

n Gordon Robinson

is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to