Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Minister questioned in OCG probe of Rooms on the Beach sale

Published:Saturday | June 10, 2017 | 6:00 AMJovan Johnson
Contractor General Dirk Harrison

The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) is probing the Government's sale of a prized beachfront property in Ocho Rios, St Ann, to Mexican investors allegedly without due regard to valuation reports.

The extent of the disregard for the valuation reports on the Urban Development Corporation (UDC)-owned Rooms on the Beach resort is not known and Contractor General Dirk Harrison, who yesterday confirmed the investigation, refused to give any specific details.

He, however, said, "I can confirm that at least one (Cabinet minister) has been [questioned], but at this time, I wouldn't't be able to say who the minister is."

Harrison said a report should be expected "very shortly" because "we're almost at the end of that probe".

Audrey Sewell, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, where both the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the UDC fall, said she would not comment on the matter given the OCG probe.

The ministry is headed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and includes Dr Horace Chang and Daryl Vaz - all ministers without portfolios. Vaz has responsibility for investment.

In April, Mexican luxury hotel group, Palace Resorts, acquired the Rooms on the Beach property for an undisclosed sum after working out a deal with the UDC.

The property is currently occupied by SuperClubs, the owners of the Rooms brand, under a 10-year lease signed in 2014.

 

J'cans in the dark

 

The Rooms on the Beach property is adjacent to the recently refurbished Moon Palace Resort, which is owned by the Mexican investors.

Speaking in the Senate on June 2, opposition member Lambert Brown raised questions about the land valuation process and whether Jamaica is getting value for money.

"The Government recently sold a major property in Ocho Rios, but the public of this country, the real owners of that property, do not know how much the property was sold for," Brown said.

"They have not even been told how much the property was valued for and whether the people of Jamaica got a good deal. What we're hearing is that a minister of government got involved directly in the negotiations."

The UDC chairman and government senator, Ransford Braham, were present at the sitting, but did not address the issue when he spoke after Brown.

It is not clear whether that minister accused of meddling was among those questioned by the contractor general.

The UDC has not responded to Gleaner questions sent from April regarding the sale.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com