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Monroe Ellis chides NHT board for costly decisions

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

A PERFORMANCE audit of the National Housing Trust (NHT) conducted by the Auditor General's Department has shown that the board's failure to abide by recommendations made by technical personnel had proven costly.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said an analysis of the minutes of board meetings has revealed instances in which the board took decisions that were contrary to technical advice given by management.

The board had also approved land acquisitions before carrying out due diligence.

The audit pointed to two instances in which the board approved the acquisition of two parcels of land in Unity Farm, St Mary, and Ironshore, St James.

Monroe Ellis said the NHT board brushed aside the advice of the technical personnel to reject the offers and acquired the lands for a total of $265 million.

The NHT purchased 73 acres of land at Unity Farm. A technical team at the NHT in November 23, 2002 advised members of the then board that a site visit to the property showed that some areas of the land were very steep and development of a residential scheme would be challenging.

The technical staff concluded that it would not recommend the acquisition of the land.

However, the board approved the purchase of the property in January 2003 for $62.5 million and gave instructions that the plan for development should begin immediately.

After the acquisition of the property, an environmental impact study was commissioned by the NHT and the research later confirmed the technical advice that the land was not feasible for housing development. The report showed that the land could only be subdivided into lot sizes of five acres and over.

In January 2015, the Ministry of Agriculture invited the NHT to hold discussions with the Coconut Industry Board for possible sale of the land for an agro-park venture.

However, the Trust said that to date, the negotiations have not started.

wrong land title

The auditor general has also highlighted a case in which the NHT signed a sales agreement with the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) and the Ministry of Housing to purchase lands at Ironshore for $202.5 million.

However, Monroe Ellis said prior to the signing of the sale agreement, the NHT engaged the services of a land surveyor to prepare surveyor's identification reports for the two properties.

The report, dated January 19, 2006, informed the Trust that the title presented for the Ironshore property was for lands other than the one identified by the NHT.

The NHT later discovered that the valuation submitted by the NHDC was not for the site visited by the Trust in 2005.

It was also highlighted that only 50 per cent of the land that was offered could be utilised for housing. It is reported that the land had very difficult terrain and two waterways had been identified on the property.

Monroe Ellis indicated that the technical unit at the Trust had recommended that the NHT reject the offer of the NHDC based on negative features identified during a site visit.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com