Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
With the National Housing Trust (NHT) to be stripped of $45.6 billion over a four-year period, to shore up the dwindling budgetary surplus, public lands could be placed in its possession to ease the effects of the largest drawdown in the organisation's history.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made the disclosure on Tuesday in the House of Representatives during the debate on the bill to facilitate the drawdown of $11.4 billion in each of the four years to assist in bolstering the fiscal surplus, a requirement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"The Cabinet also discussed looking at identifying government lands that could be passed over to the NHT in the process," said Simpson Miller, on whose behalf Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Peter Phillips piloted the legislation.
"I am sure the minister (of finance) did not say it because we wanted to ensure that we can identify (the land) before we speak to it, but since it came up, let me just mention it because we had that discussion at Cabinet," Simpson Miller added.
Such a plan was last week posited by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding who, in jumping into the controversial debate over the drawdown, had noted that there are fast-growing urban centres across Jamaica "with large numbers of NHT contributors who are and will increasingly be in need of housing".
Golding had said: "In most of these areas, there are large tracts of unutilised government-owned lands that could be transferred to the NHT at market or even discounted value in exchange for the ($45.6 billion)."
On Tuesday, Phillips spent much of his opening presentation rehashing the critical importance of inking a deal with the IMF and opening up the avenues to multilaterals. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives late in the night.
STUDY TO BE UNDERTAKEN
Simpson Miller also gave the green light to the NHT board to carry out an actuarial study that was earlier requested by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, given the Government's decision to extract the funds from the trust.
"I will give the NHT the instructions. I will get the records from the Parliament and ask them to look at it after which the Cabinet will look at it," Simpson Miller told the House.
Holness had called for the study based on previous findings related to the financial feasibility of the NHT after the $45.6-billion drawdown.
"If the NHT has all this surplus, why is it then that we are not producing houses?" argued Holness. "It must be that the NHT is not doing what it is supposed to be doing … . The time has come for us to look at the NHT to see whether it is an effective public institution fulfilling the mandate that it was given."
Added Holness: "After 30 years in the life of any institution, it is for us to review its real purpose as the NHT has so much surplus. It is either that it has fulfilled its objectives or it hasn't and we [need to] know which one it is. We have to do a review."