Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Major mess

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Workmen getting the National Arena ready for today's annual conference of the Jamaica Labour Party where the National Housing Trust's purchase of property in Trelawny is expected to loom large.
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Major mess: Opposition hints at damning disclosures on Outameni purchase

Buoyed by what they say is new information, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is poised to launch an offensive against the Government over the $180 million spent by the National Housing Trust (NHT)to purchase lands in Coopers Pen, Trelawny, which housed the Outameni Experience attraction.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that the JLP's charge will be led by the party's spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw, who will be armed with documents which have raised more questions about the controversial expenditure.

"Audley has some devastating information which will cause the public to question the accuracy and truthfulness of the information released to the country so far," claimed a senior member of the JLP.

"The PM told Parliament last Tuesday that she heard about the purchase only when it was reported in the media and the Opposition accepted her word, but now we are not too sure," added the JLP official.

According to the reports reaching our news desk, the JLP will also be questioning if there was an offer, rejected by the NHT, for the management of Orange Valley Holdings to continue operating the attraction after it was sold.

NHT WARNED

"The operators of the attraction had made it clear that they were grateful to the NHT for making the purchase and warned that the land was not suited for much more than the attraction," declared a Sunday Gleaner source.

Shaw is also set to question if the company had written to the prime minister and other key government ministers in 2012 reminding them of the Government's intention to preserve Outameni and not just take charge of the land.

The JLP is also expected to raise questions on whether any government agency held preference shares in Outameni and if this entity collected any portion of the $180 million sale price, and on what basis did the Easton Douglas-led NHT board sign off on the project only one month after it received the purchase offer.

According to other Sunday Gleaner sources, the NHT was warned that a major scandal could break if the public was to learn that it had purchased the property "for hundreds of millions of dollars" and decided to dismantle the attraction.

In the meantime, JLP Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz, who was part of the Opposition's attack team in Parliament last Tuesday as Simpson Miller responded to questions on the Outameni purchase, has written to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), urging business leaders to join the charge to get to the bottom of the controversial transaction.

Vaz has urged the PSOJ and civil society to back his call for strong action to "preserve the fundamental principles and tenets of good governance, transparency and accountability".

WANTSBOARD TO GO

According to Vaz, the PSOJ should demand that the Government remove the NHT board and appoint a new board; direct the new board to appoint a managing director, through a competitive process based on merit; and amend the NHT Act to protect against inappropriate expenditure.

The opposition MP is further urging the PSOJ to demand that the NHT freezes all ongoing project planning and negotiations in regard to Outameni and put the property back on the market for resale to recover as much of the funds that has been expended.

"If these measures are not urgently commenced, Jamaica and its economic and political image will plunge down a slippery slope that we are all making huge sacrifices to avoid," declared Vaz.

He told The Sunday Gleaner that the NHT expenditure is of such significance that every sector of society should join the call for answers as the matter is more than political.

"It should not be the Opposition alone which is leading this charge. The deafening silence from some usually vocal groups, such as National Integrity Action, is worrying as this is a most fundamental issue as it relates to governance," added Vaz.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com