Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Unfortunate and unprofessional - Former HAJ managing director blasts board over dismissal of his management team

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Gary Howell has been appointed to act as general manager for the HAJ with the sacking of five senior managers.

The recently fired managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), Karl Bennett, has expressed disgust at the way he and members of his management team were sacked some two weeks ago.

Brown and four other senior managers of the HAJ were fired with immediate effect by the new board of the agency, which claimed it had to act to stem the losses and change the direction of the state entity which has racked up losses of more than $2 billion.

In his first public response last week, Bennett rejected claims that his management team was derelict in its duties and charged that the claims by the board were misleading.

In a subsequent interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Bennett said while he was not bitter, he was offended by how the new board led by Norman Brown handled the matter.

"It would offend any reasonable person because, in fact, there was no such thing as mismanagement," declared Bennett.

"We paid down the debt and we improved the situation from what we found when we got there. It is unfortunate that the impression is being given that it was otherwise. But the record is very clear about where the losses started, when they started and the current losses that exist," added Bennett.

He pointed out that under his leadership the HAJ reduced its annual losses from $609 million in 2013-2014 to approximately $80 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

"These losses had their origin many, many years ago, and in fact, when we got there the losses accumulated to about $1.6 billion. It is unreasonable to expect a turnaround in a two-and-a-half year period and it is unreasonable to blame the people who were fixing the problem," charged Bennett.

He chided the board for its handling of the dismissals and charged that this could serve as a warning to persons, particularly those in the diaspora, not to enter the local public sector.

"I'm not asking for any special treatment, but you don't smear people's reputation by making unfounded statements and innuendos," declared Bennett who has worked in management positions in the US, Jamaica and Caribbean countries over the past 43 years.

"I am not sure what it was intended to convey, but clearly the statements that were being made were not accurate," added Bennett.

He expressed concern about the future of the former director of technical services and the senior managers with responsibility for construction, finance and information and legal service/company secretary.

"Clearly, anyone who has read what is in the media would be concerned, but I'm more concerned about the other members of my team who are not in the same position that I am," said Bennett, who has since returned to the United States where he calls home.

"I'm not bitter because I expect anything. At this stage I expect anything, but I'm concerned about other members of my team who were not expecting this type of treatment. But for me, I'm fine. I wouldn't do that to others but that is what this group chose to do."

Late last week, the HAJ chairman refused to provide a full response to the claims by Bennett, arguing that he had no intention of entering a public spat.

"We are standing by our decision and our focus now is putting the agency on a sustainable path where it can maintain its viability, bring housing solutions to the people of Jamaica and return a profit to its shareholders," said Brown, as he claimed the board is confident that the correct decisions were made.

Gary Howell, who has severed the HAJ for some 20 years, has been appointed acting managing director.