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Published:Wednesday | December 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM
SIMPSON MILLER

Simpson Miller instructs NHT to update her on happenings

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller said yesterday that the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT) has been instructed to keep her posted regarding developments at the cash-rich public body.

"A letter was sent to the Housing Trust that we are to receive all minutes of meetings where decisions are taken, and the accounting officer will be keeping a very close watch in terms of what is happening from the minutes of the meeting," Simpson Miller said in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The prime minister was responding to follow-up questions from North East Manchester Member of Parliament Audley Shaw on whether she had received periodic reports from the entity. She said the NHT board had not been reporting its actions to Onika Miller, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

Simpson Miller also said that her advice was that there was no statutory requirement for such reporting.

"The accounting officer, the permanent secretary, received no report," Simpson Miller said, adding, "We have written a letter to the board and we will ensure that we also do another letter in terms of the reporting."

UNAWARE OF REPORTS

During a recent sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, Miller said the NHT communicates its activities in quarterly reports. She also said that it is the responsibility of the OPM's representative on the board to report to her what transpires in meetings.

The prime minister said she was unaware whether the NHT had submitted annual reports, corporate plans, half- and quarter-year reports as is required by the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act.

Shaw said the NHT's 2013-2014 annual report should have been tabled by July this year and that the corporate plans for the past three years were outstanding.

The NHT spent $180 million to buy Outameni's Orange Grove property in Trelawny in March last year, and as of July this year, spent a further $2.1 million buying chattels and equipment from Lennie Little-White, the owner of Outameni. Another $25.2 million was spent for the administration and maintenance of the property and to cover costs associated with the purchase of the land such as the valuation report, legal fees and stamp duty, insurance, and property tax.

Simpson Miller also disclosed that $19.9 million had been spent since the acquisition of the property for the payment of salaries to seven employees as well as to cover the cost of maintenance, utilities, valuation and consultancy fees, office supplies, travelling, and subsistence.

Dr Wykeham McNeill, the minister of tourism and entertain-ment, said the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), the entity responsible for leading public-private partnerships, had recommended that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) or the NHT buy the Outameni lands.

McNeill said the DBJ was asked to do an analysis for the acquisition of Outameni in a public-private partnership arrangement. He said that the DBJ said that "if the Government of Jamaica wished to preserve the facility, given its value and potential as a heritage attraction, it could be acquired through a land-holding entity such as the UDC and or the NHT".

DID NOT PURSUE MATTER

McNeill said his ministry did not pursue the matter as the proposal that was sent to him was based on a joint-venture arrangement, which he said the DBJ said would see the Government of Jamaica assuming "most or all of the risks".

"That joint-venture partner-ship indicated a value of $300 million," McNeill said.

"We looked at that as a joint venture, and we determined from the ministry's point of view, and from all the information we got from the DBJ, that we, as a ministry, were not going forward," McNeill said in response to questions from Opposition MP Shahine Robinson.

In the meantime, House Speaker Michael Peart has ruled that Prime Minister Simpson Miller cause all documents on the matter to be tabled in the Parliament. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness pressed for the documents, but Phillip Paulwell, the leader of government business, argued that it was inappropriate for the documents to be made public since the matter was being investigated by the auditor general and the contractor general.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com