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Knight says he is hurt by 'sweetheart deal' claim

Published:Wednesday | June 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell

"I am hurt." An uncharacteristically emotional confession from Opposition Senator K.D. Knight in the Upper House yesterday as he responded to a suggestion by Finance and the Public Service Minister Audley Shaw when he closed the Budget Debate in the Lower House, last week, questioning whether the sale of the Oceana Hotel to Downing Street Group was a "sweetheart deal".

After the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) sold the building, the new owners entered into a relationship with a government agency. "Then I hear talk that there was a sweetheart deal. I don't know what the sweetheart deal was, I don't know between whom, but what I can tell the country, the UDC, under the chairmanship of K.D. Knight and with the board that we had, did not at any time enter into sweetheart deal. To have said so is reckless."

Continued Knight: "It's not just the chairman, it's the chairman and the board and the management of the UDC and the private sector too in sweetheart deal." He added: "Former board members call me, they are hurt; others call me, they are hurt."

Debating the Appropriations Bill in the Senate yesterday, Knight told colleague senators that the then board of the UDC did a valuation of the Oceana Hotel in 2013 and the market value of the building was between $360 million and $400 million.

He said the latest sale offer for the Oceana building was made in 2013, at which time four investors had expressed an interest in the property. The former UDC chairman said one company offered US$4 million; another was willing to purchase the building for $385 million; a third company was willing to spend $320 million; while a fourth had made no price offer. However, he said the company that offered US$4 million for the building later withdrew the offer.

According to Knight, one of the companies that bidded for the building had a shareholder who is currently a minister of government, "who is a junior minister in the Ministry of Finance".

"After due diligence, we accepted the offer of the $385 million," Knight declared, noting that "if you follow the rules, if you do what is honest, if you do what is in the best interest of your corporation and, ultimately, your country, should you have snide remarks being made?"

Said Knight: "The Accountant General, it is said, spent $400 million. So they reason now and say what should have happened since the Accountant General's Department is going to spend $400 million to do renovation, UDC should have sold it to the Accountant General for $1. Not under my chairmanship that couldn't happen; I am telling you that because if I was instructed to do so, I would (have) resigned."

He argued that the UDC is a self-financing corporation that had to pay its debts.

"We have to pay debts. I am still saying we - they - it had become a part of me - 70 per cent of my time was on UDC. I was into it. I am hurt. I am hurt."

In closing the Budget Debate, Shaw slammed the former administration for agreeing to provide $400 million to renovate the ground floor of the Oceana Hotel, which the UDC had previously sold for $385 million.

Shaw questioned: "Is it good value for the Jamaican people, government mismanagement at its peak, or is it a sweetheart deal?"

He further questioned: "Why wasn't the facility sold to the Accountant General's Office for $1 to facilitate the expenditure of the $400 million on repairs to the facility?"

After contributions by members on both sides of the political divide, the Appropriations Bill was passed by the Senate.