Hammering out an NHT board
Cabinet split on whether Douglas-led unit should remain
With reports surfacing of a split in the Cabinet over the future of the Easton Douglas-led National Housing Trust (NHT) board, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seems set to cast the deciding vote if it stays or goes.
According to Sunday Gleaner sources, some government officials are pushing for the appointing of at least one new director to move the board back to the minimum number of nine and continue to defend the controversial decision to purchase the Trelawny property which housed the Outameni attraction.
However, other government officials are urging the PM to dissolve the board, which does not now have a quorum to meet, and appoint a new body.
"That would be difficult for the PM as the board involves some persons who have been very close and loyal to her over the years, including Easton Douglas and Lambert Brown," said a government source late yesterday.
"It would probably be better and easier politically to dismiss the board but that would appear to say the members were involved in wrongdoing, and a large chunk of the Cabinet is convinced that they did nothing wrong," said the source.
The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) last Friday indicated that Simpson Miller will make an announcement related to the composition and future of the board following tomorrow's Cabinet meeting.
"Prime Minister Simpson Miller acknowledges that the current public debate surrounding a recent property acquisition by the NHT board has resulted in the resignation of some board members, with implications for the continuation of the work of the board in giving oversight to the NHT in the performance of its functions," said OPM.
According to the OPM: "The prime minister notes that the Government will continue to ensure that the NHT fulfils its mandate of increasing and improving the existing supply of housing, promoting housing projects, and creating affordable housing solutions for low-income contributors."
BOARD TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
The OPM also outlined that the mandate of the NHT includes, "providing housing-related benefits for contributors, facilitating social services and physical infrastructure for communities developed under NHT projects, as well as prudently administering and investing the monies of the Trust".
While there was no indication from the OPM on the direction in which the Cabinet is headed, the NHT board has called a media briefing for 11 a.m. tomorrow to "discuss the facts concerning the recent purchase of the Orange Grove property".
It is expected that Douglas and his board members will also respond to questions about the use of the Outameni property which the NHT shelled out $180 million to acquire from Capital & Credit Merchant Bank, which had a lien on the property.
Extracts from the minutes of a September 29, 2014 board meeting show directors approving the expenditure of just under $111 million in capital cost and $1.3 million to reopen the attraction.
"That decision was based on a September 26 submission to the Finance Committee by the acting general manager of the Trust, Martin Miller, whose proposal was to have the attraction up and running by October 2014.
"The facilities have been closed for over a year and the buildings are in need of significant repairs," said Miller in his submission.
"The building repairs and preparation of the grounds of the facilities, including the areas from the intersection of the access road with the highway and the area used for the parking of buses, will start as soon as this plan is introduced," added the submission.
According to the submission, by 2016-2017 the NHT would begin to see positive returns on the almost $300 million that it would spend to purchase and have the attraction up and running.
It was estimated that after a loss of $16 million this year, the attraction would earn a profit of almost $12 million by the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
"The project has the potential to promote social development through employment creation, income redistribution and poverty alleviation," the board was told.