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OPM permanent secretary dismisses claims by former NHT chairman

Published:Thursday | June 25, 2015 | 6:00 AMEdmond Campbell

Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Onika Miller, has shot down claims by former chairman of the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT), Howard Mitchell, that he sent minutes of board meetings to her during his tenure with the housing agency.

In a quick response yesterday, Mitchell refused to back down, saying he served as chairman of the NHT board for the period 2008 to 2011, during which time minutes of board meetings were sent to permanent secretaries at the OPM, including Miller, who has been serving in that capacity from 2009.

"There was a time when I was chairman of the NHT, when minutes of the board meeting was sent to the permanent secretary at Jamaica House," he emphasised.

"I stand by my comment," an insistent Mitchell declared.

stunned

Miller told members of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Tuesday that she was stunned when she heard Mitchell declaring in a radio interview that he had sent the minutes of board meetings to her.

"Between November 2009 and October 2010, I acted as permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, and during that period I did not receive board minutes. Mr Howard Mitchell was the then board chairman of the NHT and at no material point in time did he provide me with board minutes on any periodic or regular basis. That's a fact," said Miller.

The OPM permanent secretary insisted that she had never received board minutes from the NHT or any other board falling within the portfolio.

However, Miller noted that she only received extracts of minutes for matters she had to bring to the attention of the portfolio minister, a practice which occurred in the previous and current administrations.

Miller said the NHT has written to her to confirm that at no time did the agency send minutes of its board meetings to her.

Members of the PAC were reviewing the controversial decision by the then Easton Douglas-chaired board of the NHT to purchase the $180 million Outameni property in Orange Grove, Trelawny.

In December 2012, the NHT board approved the purchase of the loan of $180 million from a merchant bank in exchange for the assets owned by Orange Valley Holdings Limited valued at $311.16 million.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who conducted a performance audit of the NHT, indicated that the managing director's submission to the board, dated November 28, 2012, stated that "an urgency was created because of a provisionary order by the court to sell the home of the guarantors for the loan and the final order was expected to be handed down on November 20, 2012 if Orange Valley Holdings Limited failed to settle the debt".

Monroe Ellis had said that the permanent secretary, while receiving quarterly and half-year reports from the NHT, did not request copies of the board minutes, contrary to the Accountability Framework.

In light of the findings of the performance audit, Miller said she had given clear instructions that minutes from board meetings of agencies falling within the portfolio of OPM should be sent to her office.