Wed | Oct 28, 2020

Port Royal investors hunt payout from Gov’t

Published:Monday | September 28, 2020 | 12:15 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer

A group of private-sector shareholders involved in a longstanding plan to develop Port Royal as a heritage tourism destination have applied for leave to bring derivative action to the Supreme Court against the state-owned Urban Development Corporation (UDC).

The Port Royal Development Company Limited was formed under a public-private partnership arrangement with the P.J. Patterson-led Government in 1995, which took a 70 per cent stake, with the UDC overseeing the State’s interest. The remaining 30 per cent is shared among the remaining 47 investors.

“We recognised the importance of preserving and restoring the heritage components whilst developing other core areas and potential that the community boasts, such as the creation of a cruise ship port,” Robert Stephens, the fourth-largest investor and conceptualiser of the initiative, said.

“From this venture, we had expected the citizens living in the area would have benefited from housing developments, job creation, and economical and social sustainability whilst generating profits for both private stakeholders and the Government of Jamaica alike.”

According to Stephens, who is named in the court documents as the investors’ representative, the Government has been lukewarm to the group’s effort to get clarity on decisions being taken.

In an email explaining the Supreme Court move, Stephens said that despite persistent efforts to engage the UDC as a majority shareholder and the secretariat, via several letters and emails from private-sector directors and shareholders and the leadership of the business and tourism lobbies requesting their cooperation or intervention of the prime minister, those “attempts were for naught”.

“We were further dismayed when we saw that the said entity tasked with forwarding the mandate of our partnership joined forces with other government agencies to complete a project that was initially conceptualised through us,” he said.

According to documents seen by The Gleaner, shares in Port Royal Development Company Limited total US$5.04 million, of which the private-sector shareholders contributed US$1.29m.

The group, through its attorneys, has demanded US$8.42m (at a rate of US$6.5 for every US dollar invested) as compensation for its shares, but the UDC has refused to honour the claim, citing that shares are never guaranteed investment with fixed return over time.

Lawyers for the state entity also slammed Stephens’ request for a one-time payment of US$1.5m, arguing that there are no property rights in a concept or idea.