Tue | Nov 12, 2019

PAAC calls in Danville Walker over conflict of interest concerns

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2019 | 5:13 PM
Danville Walker - File photo

Danville Walker, who now straddles two chairmanships at the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings Limited and the National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA), is to appear before a parliamentary oversight committee to address, among other things, questions about an “inherent conflict” of interest in a major development project.    

The SCJ is the owner and promoter of the 5,300-acre Greater Bernard Lodge Development Programme while NEPA led the team that prepared the master plan for the development.  

“Given the size and magnitude of this developmental project that there would be some inherent conflict between the chairman of NEPA and being the chairman of SCJ Holdings,” said Dr Wykeham McNeill, chairman of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).

As part of the master plan, 1,803 acres are to be developed into housing and light industrial activity, 3,000 acres designated for agriculture while the balance would be set aside for social services, according to Managing Director of the SCJ Joseph Shoucair.  

However, during a PAAC meeting on Wednesday where the SCJ management appeared before the committee, McNeill indicated that he was “uncomfortable” with NEPA doing the master plan and at the same time being in charge of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study.

“When NEPA is charged with doing a development, creating a master plan and does the EIA, then who is going to oversee the EIA and determine that all due diligence was done,” he queried.

Committee member Fitz Jackson, who is the Member of Parliament for St Catherine South, said that for many years NEPA had rejected any form of development in the  Greater Bernard Lodge area.

“The Portmore Municipality can tell you of written documentation from NEPA rejecting any development inside there until they become the developer.

“They now develop a master plan to do something contrary to what they said could not be done – that I know for a fact – because there have been many housing development proposals made for those lands and NEPA has consistently rejected them because it is a watershed area and they have to protect the aquifer in that area.”

However, Shoucair said it was not entirely accurate to say that there was no development in the aquifer protection zone prior to the development of the master plan.

He said that Caribbean Estates and Morris Meadows were built in the aquifer protection zone.

He also said large informal settlements have been established in the area.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Dermon Spence, told the committee that a decision of the board of the Water Resources Authority (WRA) in June 2019 indicates that the area should no longer be considered a no-build zone.

With that revelation, the committee said that the chairman of the WRA Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr. should also be invited to appear before the committee.

Cabinet gave instructions for the master plan to be done in 2017 and it was completed in 2018.

Spence said that the several expressions of interest to purchase lands in the greater Bernard Lodge area triggered the need to develop a master plan for the Bernard Lodge lands.

Efforts to reach Danville Walker for a comment were unsuccessful.

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