Sun | Aug 20, 2017

NHT bailout for PNP MP?

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2015 | 5:00 AMErica Virtue
It appears persons are now squatting on the property which the NHT bought for $62.5 million in 2003 and is still to find use for.
Robertson
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Ignoring warnings from its technical team and even before it did an environmental impact assessment, the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT) approved the spending of $62.5 million to purchase property in St Mary owned by a company controlled by then senior government minister Dr Paul Robertson.

A Sunday Gleaner probe has found that the property was purchased in 2003 from PDK Limited, a company in which Robertson was listed as the major shareholder. Robertson was elected a vice-president of the then governing People's National Party (PNP) and was the minister of development.

In a recently released perform-ance audit of the NHT, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis noted that "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".

Since purchasing the 733-acre property, the NHT has repeatedly tried to get rid of it because, as the then Kingsley Thomas-led board was warned, it was not suitable for housing.

 

NOT SUITABLE FOR HOUSING

 

An environmental impact assessment commissioned by the NHT after it had completed the sale confirmed the technical advice that the property was not suitable for housing.

But even without the technical advice, a visit to Unity Farm would have informed the board that it would be problematic to spend taxpayers' money to purchase the property.

When our news team visited the property last week, residents were adamant that the 2003 purchase was a bailout.

"You mean the property the Government buy to bail out Dr Robertson. Yes, man. Is just bush - so-so bush. No house caan build pon dat deh property. It nuh good for a damn thing," declared one man.

"But NHT buy it long time, and about two months ago, they came and put up NHT signs," added the resident, who noted that the River Negro once flowed through the property.

"And that spell danger. The river can come back for its course and it will wash away everything in its way. It have hills, gully, and I can't see how any house would a stable on dat deh land," declared the resident.

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

The push to get the development going immediately caused pressure to be brought on the St Mary Parish Council to approve a sub-division order.

"I recall that there were loud objections to the pressure on the council to approve subdivision order for the property, because there is no water on the property, although a river ran through it," said a former parish council personnel, who asked not to be named.

"The then mayor [Fitz Nicholson], now deceased, convened a special meeting to approve the subdivision order. Then another special meeting was held to approve the approval," added the former parish council personnel.

He directed The Sunday Gleaner to former Member of Parliament Robert Montague, who was the sole Jamaica Labour Party representative in the council at that time.

"I recall that an application for a subdivision was turned down at the regular planning meeting. However, a special planning meeting was called shortly thereafter by the then mayor, to approve him signing the subdivision order out of session," said Montague.

"I voted against it at that meeting. Why? Because other persons were seeking sub-division applications which were also turned down for lack of water," said Montague.

"I recall the application being for both housing and agriculture and that they would be in five-acre subdivisions. However, the Roads and Works Department of the council recommended that the order should not be granted. But the majority of PNP councillors voted for its approval."

Efforts to contact Thomas and then managing director of the NHT, Earl Samuels, were unsuccessful last week.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com