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EDITORIAL - Uneasy with NHT tourism venture

Published:Friday | October 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Easton Douglas, chairman of the National Housing Trust (NHT), and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has portfolio responsibility for the agency, owe Jamaicans a rather more cogent explanation for the Trust's foray into a commercial enterprise that, on the face of it, is outside of its mandate and beyond its area of competence.

We refer to Mr Douglas' disclosure this week that the NHT has acquired, for J$180 million, Lennie Little-White's Outameni Experience, a 10-acre tourism attraction in Trelawny, and is spending another $67 million in the first year to fund its operation. He expects the business, with whose viability Mr Little-White has struggled, will have income of J$50 million, although whether this means a net profit is not clear.

First, though, we consider this deal in the context of the raison d'être of the NHT, which is the provision of shelter for Jamaicans primarily by the provision of mortgages to contributors and the financing of housing developments.

The Trust is funded by a three per cent payroll tax on employers and a refundable contribution of two per cent of their incomes by employees. The NHT makes interest on its mortgage loans and other investments, on which, Mr Douglas will remind us, Section 4 (2) (b) and 7 (c) of the NHT Act, which addresses the issue, makes no limitation. So, risk-taking in a commercial business is not prohibited. However, the NHT - which, at the end of its 2012-13 financial year, had assets of J$194 billion - has historically invested its cash in government instruments and those of the private sector that are generally considered safe. It is primarily a financial company.

The management of a tourism business, especially one that has had trouble, is another matter, in which the Trust has no experience. Comparing this potentially risky venture with social-welfare spending on a city park, as Mr Douglas did, makes little sense. Maybe deeper thought went into the decision. Just make the case to us.

Can't have your cake, too, Yendi

Yendi Phillipps can't have it both ways. Having with intent paraded her life before the public, she is celebrated for being a celebrity. Now, she is complaining about privacy, or an absence thereof. Or, perhaps more correctly, Ms Phillipps hopes to divert from the spotlight for a bit.

At issue is the case for the custody and maintenance of their two-year-old daughter that Ms Phillipps, a former beauty queen, has taken to court against her former entertainer lover, Daniel McGregor, whose performing name is Chino. The court filing is a public document about which this newspaper reported. Ms Phillipps claims that is an invasion of her privacy.

First, nothing in our report is scandalous to public morals or is likely to be hurtful to the child. But Ms Phillipps' response raises larger issues about the culture of celebrity and those who exploit its social and commercial value.

When Ms Phillipps and Mr McGregor were embarking on their relationship, they made it the public's business and appeared to bask in, and, we assume, reaped rewards from, the attention. The relationship was symbiotic: content for media; adoration and fame for a celebrity power couple which they might parlay into other value. When Ms Phillipps became pregnant, the baby bump was cause, too, for smiling, ostentatious attention.

Now, Ms Phillipps finds attention to a legal matter discomfiting. She would like the spotlight pointed elsewhere until a propitious celebration of celebrity.

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