Sat | Dec 10, 2016

I didn't write Portia

Published:Monday | November 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Audley Shaw

Former Outameni operator dismisses JLP suggestions he gave PM details of sale

Gary Spaulding and Jovan Johnson, Gleaner Writers

Lennie Little-White, the chairman of Orange Valley Holdings Ltd, is scoffing at claims by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that a letter he penned serves as proof that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was aware for more than a year of the controversial sale of properties on which the Outameni Experience attraction sits in Trelawny.

Little-White, whose company operated the attraction before the property was sold to the National Housing Trust (NHT) for $180 million, told The Gleaner yesterday that he did not follow through with a threat to send information on the transaction to the prime minister.

Yesterday, during the JLP's 71st annual conference at the National Arena, Audley Shaw said the prime minister would have to answer whether she learnt of the 2013 purchase much earlier than the October 30, 2014 date she indicated in Parliament last week.

However, Little-White said yesterday evening that he threatened to inform Simpson Miller and other government officials after then NHT Managing Director Cecile Watson told him to dismantle the entire Experience.

"NHT bought the buildings and the land; they did not buy the statues, the whole story [and] they didn't buy the furniture," Little-White said. "My letter to the managing director simply said: 'If you insist that I pull down all the stuff, I'm going to send a copy of this letter to the prime minister and other people in Government who might be interested in Outameni.'"

LETTER NOT FORWARDED

However, he said the letter was not forwarded to those persons, as NHT Chairman Easton Douglas summoned him to a meeting and told him to wait until certain internal decisions were made.

"I have never corresponded with the prime minister. I have never spoken to anybody in the prime minister's office. I've never spoken with anybody at that level," he added.

The well-known filmmaker said the letter quoted by Shaw was only sent to Watson and Douglas.

During the conference, Shaw said he also had in his possession correspondence that proved the NHT was not the first government agency to invest in Outameni.

"This is a shame and a scandal and shows poor governance, gross mismanagement, lack of transparency and cronyism at its highest level," the opposition finance spokesman said.

"In this sordid affair, the prime minister is culpable and accountable. The minister of finance cannot wash his hands like Pilate. He, too, is accountable, and the board of directors of the NHT should resign with immediate effect."

He charged that Simpson Miller and senior government members were aware of the transaction purchase for a longer time than has been admitted and said Little-White's letter also made it clear that the intention was to purchase both the land and the business.

Against this backdrop, Shaw suggested Simpson Miller misled the Parliament and people of Jamaica when she fielded questions from the parliamentary Opposition last Tuesday.

He read from Little-White's letter, dated July 16, 2013, which revealed that the formal offer to the NHT was made in November 2012.

The letter revealed that, one month later, the board approved the purchase without anyone from the NHT examining the property.

"Dem buy puss inna bag," Shaw told Labourites.

Reading from the letter, he said Little-White stated: "I am very aware that the National Housing Trust (NHT) has made a great sacrifice to purchase the property, and for this, I will be forever grateful."

DISAGREEMENT

At a later stage, Shaw said Little-White appeared to be in disagreement with statements made by Watson: "It is very important that your minister, the prime minister and other members of the Government who wanted the attraction to remain a diamond in the crown of our national heritage sites be not misled by the content of your letter.

"To ensure that this does not happen and to protect my integrity, I will be sending a copy of this letter and yours plus all other correspondence - starting with the offer letter to your chairman dated November 7, 2012, to the prime minister and other key persons in the Government who were interested in the preservation of the attraction and not just the 10-acre piece of real estate," stated Little-White in the letter.

The letter added: "This transaction begs for another scandal when the public learns that the NHT purchased the property for hundreds of millions of dollars and has now chosen to dismantle the attraction. The site is a built heritage attraction which was architecturally designed to house this specific concept. It has limited usage otherwise."

Referring to another document in his possession, Shaw said that on March 31, 2005, the board of directors of the National Investment Bank of Jamaica (NIBJ) approved an investment of US$500,000 (J$56 million) in the Outameni business.

This investment, he said, was by way of preference shares which required an annual dividend payment of eight per cent per year over a five-year period, thereby yielding a US$200,000 (J$23-million) gain.

"But there was no gain in this first bailout, only pain," quipped Shaw. "From Day One, not one red cent of dividend was paid by Outameni to NIBJ, now merged with the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ).

Shaw said that an outstanding liability of US$700,000, or approximately J$80 million, was on the books of the DBJ representing its equity in the Outameni business.

He claimed that the country had not been told that in addition to the NHT purchase of the Orange Grove property for $180 million, and a further likely payment by the NHT of some $22 million, the DBJ has written off the additional $80 million of preference shares in Outameni.