NHT busted! Trust ordered to stop changing rules without Parliament's approval
Correction & Clarification
In the article, ‘NHT Busted! Trust Ordered To Stop Changing Rules Without Parliament’s Approval’, which was published in The Sunday Gleaner, comments made by Dr Lanie Oakley-Williams, senior general manager at the National Housing Trust (NHT), before the Regulations Committee of the Senate, were incorrectly attributed to Judith Larmond Henry, the entity’s general legal counsel. We regret the error.
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
The regulations committee of the Senate has instructed the National Housing Trust (NHT) to stop implementing certain policies without the approval of Parliament.
In considering a regulation which will select categories of persons who live or work in the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine for first preference in the purchase of housing units or lots in the Hellshire Housing Development - Phase IV, the committee said the NHT rules are being breached.
Based on an order signed by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who is the minister with responsibility for the NHT, young adults who have contributed to the Trust for at least five years will be allotted 10 of the houses to the built.
A total of 42 units in the 226-unit scheme have been reserved for groups including members of some professional organisations, but committee members expressed discomfort, saying it could be discriminatory.
There are no clear criteria governing the way the professional organisations make selection. In the event that more persons have been submitted than the allocation set aside, the NHT, whose board is chaired by former government minister Easton Douglas, makes a selection based on its points system.
"We have never asked them for the criteria. The only thing we insist on is that they must be a contributor to the National Housing Trust," said Judith Larmond Henry, general legal counsel at the NHT.
She revealed that the NHT's board has requested a review of the selection process for benefits from the Trust.
Larmond Henry also conceded that the rules in relation to the special benefits scheme were being breached, but she said it was not being intentionally done.
"The practice is that when we have the board approval, we have been acting on the board approval while the thing goes through the process. This is the first time - and I have been there 10 years - that I have been asked to come to a meeting about the special benefit orders. And we do them three, four, five times a year for every scheme," she added.
"We are learning from this and it will not happen again," Larmond Henry assured the committee.
Committee member K.D. Knight said he believes the way in which the NHT has been operating the special scheme is a misinterpretation as it believes that the board's decision and authorisation would be sufficient to proceed.
"But in this circumstance, you have proceeded along that line for so long, it would be almost immoral of the Parliament to now say that the commitment entered into in good faith be rescinded," Knight said.
He said the Parliament should seek to validate the actions taken in the past, but going forward, the regulations must be adhered to.
The ministerial order, which was signed on September 9 and tabled in the House of Representatives last Wednesday, makes provision for six categories of public-sector workers, and low-to-middle-income Jamaicans to be accorded preferential treatment in the purchasing of the houses.
Members of the Jamaica Teachers' Association who have contributed to the Trust for at least one year will be given preference of two lots and three units.
Similar treatment is to be accorded to members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Island Special Constabulary Force, the Nurses' Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Defence Force and the Civil Service Association of Jamaica, providing they have contributed to the Trust for at least one year.