Sun | Dec 4, 2016

EDITORIAL - With Gayle abandon

Published:Wednesday | November 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

In speaking out of both sides of his mouth, Kavan Gayle failed to settle on a principle that underpins his decision to resign from the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT) in the face of the public controversy over that agency's decision to purchase the Outameni property in Trelawny.

There is the public outcry over the decision. So it needs to be reviewed and all board members should recuse themselves for this to happen. And the prime minister, under whom the NHT falls, needs a free hand to determine the composition of the board.

Let the new board fix the mistakes we may have made.

These considerations are, on the face of it, all reasonable. It is often the case that when trust is lost in the leaders of institutions, even in circumstances that are contrived, those leaders are usually incapable of fixing the problem.

But Mr Gayle has made several other points relating to his decision, including one in a radio interview, about his presidency of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and its alignment with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which has been at the forefront of the opposition to the Outameni deal.

That would be another "distraction" for the opposition party to deal with. Or, as the JLP parliamentarian Daryl Vaz puts it: "How could ... (Mr Gayle) stay when we in the Opposition call on other members (to resign) when one of ours is on the board that made such bad, poor judgement?"

Mr Gayle said that the Outameni purchase, on which the NHT spent $180 million, represented bad judgement, although he has attempted to exculpate himself from the act, assuming it was bad, by suggesting, if not outrightly claiming, ignorance.

There are many things about the deal that are now in the public domain which were not presented to NHT directors at board meetings, he suggests. And, as he recalled in a radio interview, he was absent from two board meetings at which the Outameni purchase was discussed.

FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY

Which, of course, raises questions about the fiduciary responsibility of board members and how seriously Mr Gayle took and applied his.

Mr Gayle, we assume, received board papers and the minutes of meetings he attended and of those from which he was absent. If those basic requirements of good management were not being met, surely the board and management of the NHT, which sits on assets of nearly $200 billion, should be summarily fired.

Having received those minutes and, presumably, reviewed them, what questions did Mr Gayle ask? If the answers were unsatisfactory, he should have resigned and stated why. But Mr Gayle, by his own admission, was also a member of a critical subcommittee of the board at which the Outameni acquisition was discussed. What was his position during those discussions?

If, in retrospect, Mr Gayle believes the NHT made a bad call, and wants to hold himself to account, he should say so. He feels that given all the noise over the deal, the current board can no longer effectively execute its mandate. That's OK. He, in the circumstance, should, like Helene Davis Whyte, walk away.

But to attempt to extricate himself with an admixture of political expedience and claimed ignorance carries an odour which, in another circumstance, Mr Gayle would not likely appreciate.