Wed | Dec 7, 2016

NHT has lost sight of its purpose

Published:Wednesday | January 14, 2015 | 12:00 AM

André White, Guest Columnist

The members of the engineering fraternity believe that it's now time for them to join with the other professional groups and voice their concerns about the National Housing Trust's (NHT) recent purchase of the land which housed the Outameni attraction in Trelawny.

Part II Section 4 of NHT Act states that the functions of the trust shall be to:

a. Add to and improve the existing supply of housing by:

i. Promoting housing projects to such extent as may from time to time be approved by the minister;

ii. Making available to such contributors as may be prescribed, in such manner and on such terms and conditions as may be prescribed, loans to assist in purchase, building and maintenance, repair or improvement of houses and;

iii. Encouraging and stimulating improved methods of production of houses.

iv. To enhance the usefulness of the funds by promoting greater efficiency in the housing sector.

The trust may also provide financing of up to a maximum aggregate amount of $5-billion for projects for the development of education.

The act further states that in exercising its functions, the Trust shall have power to:

a. Provide finance for:

i. Development projects undertaken by the Trust.

ii. Social services and physical infrastructure for communities developed under the projects.

b. To administer and invest the moneys of the Trust.

(This list continues; the act can be referred to for further information).

It is our view that the primary function of the NHT is the development and improvement of houses in the housing sector. This would tend to suggest that the NHT, in purchasing the land which housed Outameni, acted out of accordance with its stated objectives and the members of the engineering community cannot support that position.

The Government could posit that the attraction was purchased with a view to convert it to a housing development in the future, but I am certain that other surrounding lands could have been purchased to embark on such a venture and would prove to be a better investment of the Trust's monies.

Accountability and transparency

We are asking the NHT and the Government of Jamaica to carefully consider their position, as the Trust was set up for the interest of the Jamaica people. In the true spirit of accountability and transparency, it should have been the Government's responsibility to make the contributors to the NHT aware of the decision and sign off on it before the action was taken.

We know that the board was set up for the general administration of the Trust and we have no doubt that they are very competent and capable of carrying out their responsibilities, but if it is going to make a decision which is outside of the purview of its function, then the contributors to the Trust must be consulted before such decisions are made.

We are of the view that all countries need various systems of government in order to carry out their daily duties and to serve the common people, and so we would like to clearly establish that we have utmost respect for the Government and the service that it provides for the Jamaican people daily.

We refuse to be antagonists to the Government, as we need its support and need it to look out for our best interest if we are to survive and remain sustainable. However, a culture has developed over the years with successive governments in Jamaica where they establish policies and veer away from them when it is to their benefit.

There is also a culture that has developed where if a mistake is made by the Government it refuses to accept that it is at fault and apologise to the people and move on, with a view to being more careful in the future.

Standards

It should be noted that in other jurisdictions, for example, the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore, to name a few, persons who hold positions of leadership are held to high standards. Based on these standards, they willingly offer their resignation for any action that is in dichotomy with the policies by which they are governed.

What we can say, as a matter of principle, is that, provided that successive governments continue to establish polices and not adhere to them or demand that they be enforced, Jamaica's growth will forever be stymied, and we will always be watching our neighbours making progress and drooling for the same but lacking the capacity to get there.

This article, over and above the Outameni issue, is a clarion call to all Jamaicans, who have lost hope and have become numb to the issues that confront us, to wake up and begin to dream again and to make the decision to shape the Jamaica in which we all desire to live.

In our next article, we will look at the code of conduct for board members of public bodies in Jamaica (including how board members are selected) and whether or not ascribing to the requirements of the code could mitigate against future occurrences of any fiasco such what occurred with Outameni.

André White is the president of the Jamaica Institution of Engineers (JIE). This was prepared by the current affairs committee of the JIE. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com