Easton Douglas: Shameful OCG loose with the facts
In his 2013 report to Parliament, Dirk Harrison, the contractor general, made certain statements, without the provision of any supporting evidence, that under the guise of a "fabricated consultancy" and friendship, Easton Douglas & Company was awarded a contract for which the organisation was paid an "enormous sum" compared to three other valuators who had prepared valuation reports.
He also reported that the contract was issued under the category of legal services and went on to advise that Easton Douglas & Company is not an organisation qualified to practise law and, therefore, the procedures contained in the government handbook for the procurement of services was breached.
He neglected to state that all of the above occurred in 2010, under a JLP government and different UDC leadership.
The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is obliged to respond to the matter of the breach of the procurement procedures. The procurement procedure has nothing to do with Easton Douglas & Company. The mention of friendship is irresponsible, insensitive and inappropriate and is no doubt intended to create mischief.
There are few government agencies and indeed private practitioners who enter into contracts with Easton Douglas & Company. This is a small professional grouping. It is always possible that someone may be identified as a colleague, acquaintance, or friend of Easton Douglas.
The comparison of what is regarded as an enormous sum for the consultancy services suggests a lack of understanding of the scope of work that was required, and the manner in which the fees were calculated. To compare it with other valuation reports seems to be intended to invite sensationalism, cynicism and controversy.
It is also clear that the contractor general has not done a proper analysis and seems to be speaking loosely without any consideration for one's reputation. To indulge in sullying the character of a professional, who for the last 60 years has served with integrity in the public and private sector, is shameful.
The facts are that neither Easton Douglas nor Easton Douglas & Company has ever indicated, pretended, implied or suggested to any client, including several private-sector attorneys-at-law and departments of legal services in several government agencies, that he is an attorney-at-law.
There was no evidence that the contract sought legal services from Easton Douglas & Company.
The contract between Easton Douglas & Company and the UDC was for the provision of consultancy services, bearing in mind relevant qualification of more than 60 years of experience, a handful of professional peers and limited availability of other similar competent persons.
The consultancy was to provide the UDC with an opinion to guide the organisation in its negotiation of a price for a parcel of land containing 123 acres in Caymanas Estates, which had been designated for development under the UDC Act. The designation itself, as it affects valuation, planning and development, etc., had implications, which had to be taken into consideration in arriving at an opinion. The vendor was asking $430 million for the parcel of land, based on his consultant's opinion of the market value.
Two other valuations for the same land were submitted to the UDC. One opinion was a value of $70 million; the other was $230 million. The UDC, therefore, wanted to rely on expertise that would have had the capacity to inspect the land in question, conduct appropriate and skilful research, interview professional peers, within the parameters of ethical behaviour and respect, carry out analysis in relation to a 'designated area' and provide findings that would guide it for continuing negotiations with the vendor.
The UDC was not in a position to rely on three different valuations of such disparity.
Easton Douglas & Company conducted the consultancy services, not for the purpose of only providing an opinion for market value.
The company advised the UDC that for the purpose of negotiation, it should apply a price for the land on a scale of $1.7 million to $2.2 million per acre.
The range was a reflection of a variety of features on the ground, which must be taken into consideration in the application of value.
The UDC accepted and negotiated with the vendor on that basis. The vendor accepted the opinion that was provided by Easton Douglas & Company. The acceptance by the vendor resulted in savings of more than $200 million to the UDC.
So let us avoid conspiracies, speculation, irresponsible expressions to Parliament and the public. Let's examine the facts in a rational manner and avoid character assassination, which seems to be a hallmark of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).
Because of the nature of the consultancy, the fees were not calculated on the ordinary basis of rates applicable to the opinion of market value. They were applied on the basis of time spent, and applicable rates on market value.
There was nothing massive about the fees. The variable rate fee, which amounted to $4 million, is not unique to the fees that are charged by competent professionals.
Finally, it seems quite strange that the contractor general would even focus on a matter that occurred three years prior to the year of his annual review, more so, one that was completely above board and applied and executed within the confines of Jamaican law.
The contractor general should exercise care to avoid submitting reports aimed at titillating public opinion, unworthy of a creature of Parliament.
- Easton Douglas holds a master's degree in land appraisal, is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and has been a professional valuation surveyor for the Government.