FORMER ATTORNEY General Ransford Braham has said he is intrigued by the discussions on the legality of the National Housing Trust (NHT) being required by the Government to provide money for fiscal consolidation.
"I find it very interesting and it is certainly worth looking into," Braham told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
Civil society group Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity has indicated its intention to challenge the decision to raid the NHT to the tune of $11 billion per year over the next four years, saying the Government's action is illegal.
But Attorney General Patrick Atkinson on Tuesday said the withdrawal of the fund is "perfectly legal".
"I think some persons are looking only at the National Housing Trust Act, but there is a Public Bodies Administration and Accountability Act, which was passed in 2001 ... and that act indicates that it is perfectly legal, and we so advise the Government," Atkinson said.
Braham, meanwhile, told The Gleaner that the Attorney General's Department was asked to look at the matter before he took office in July 2011 "as there was an issue, but that was done before I came.
"I have not looked at the legislation or the Constitution. If it is just straight legislation, I would imagine that they would amend it. But they have another angle where they are now arguing that it is people's property and, therefore, you cannot just take it away. That is a very interesting constitutional point, because the Constitution protects your right to property," Braham said.
In the meantime, Atkinson said he has not looked for nor has he seen the existing opinion in the AG's office, which suggests that the removal of the funds is illegal.
"If there is one, I have not researched all the documents that exist in the office. As you realise, there are thousands of documents in the office. I can just tell you that we did our own research and we looked at all the relevant laws," Atkinson said.
The attorney general also said he is not aware of any legislation being contemplated to allow for the withdrawal of the funds from the NHT.
"What was proposed is perfectly legal and is authorised by the law," he insisted.
In the meantime, Atkinson, a member of the governing People's National Party and member of parliament for North Trelawny, said he is disappointed that a debate has focused on the matter of the removal of the funds from the NHT rather than the economic state of the country.
"I can certainly understand persons asking questions as to where we are, but we don't have a full debate and seem not to have a full understanding of the perilous situation that the Jamaica economy faces," Atkinson lamented.
He added: Nobody is asking themselves what would happen within two years if we don't have an IMF agreement or if we did not take steps to change the way we do business in this country."
As a prior action to an IMF agreement, the country was required to raise its primary surplus from six per cent to 7.5 per cent. In order to achieve the target, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips announced a $15.9 billion tax package as well as an $11-billion per year extraction from the NHT.