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HAJ boss to tackle slow projects

Published:Friday | July 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Gary Howell, acting managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica.

The new acting boss at the state-run Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) says he wants to do right by depositors whose money the agency collected three years ago, but have so far failed to deliver their homes.

"I am burdened by it," said acting managing director Gary Howell. "My most urgent mission is that I want to see persons getting their solutions. Coming from the sales department, where I would have collected person's deposits and not able to deliver, has really affected me," the newly installed acting managing director said.

Howell, who served as senior manager for sales and services at the HAJ, has been tapped to act as managing director of the agency amid a management shake-up and sacking of five senior managers. He was speaking with Sunday Gleaner Business to discuss the way forward for the HAJ.

"That Bernard Lodge situation has burdened me because I had collected over 700 deposits at one point. Although most have collected back their deposit, to have taken it and not deliver a solution to them has affected me significantly," said Howell.

He was referencing the problem-plagued Bernard Lodge housing project that the HAJ should have delivered from March 2014 and for which it is still holding deposits on the units for at least 300 homebuyers.

"That's why I am seeking to ensure that we complete these projects so that we can deliver. I think I need to ensure that as quickly as possible, persons that have paid their money get what they have paid for," he said.

Alongside the board's mandate to overhaul the agency, Howell said his personal mandate is "not to collect people's money unless we can deliver to them".

"It is difficult when you build up a person hopes and then don't deliver. So I intend to ensure that we move along that line," he said.

As part of the overhaul, the HAJ's audit and human resource departments will undertake a thorough review to ensure that skills recruited are suited to the organisation and to shore up financial probity from the inside.

"Any successful and strong organisation has a strong governance regime in its HR and audit departments," said Howell, adding that focus on those departments would put the agency on a firm footing going forward.

The vacancies left with the departure of the five senior managers have been filled by internal staff, Howell told Sunday Business.

"No one has been brought in," he said.

The HAJ Board of Directors has charged the new managing director with revamping the agency's image, a key component of which is completing the real estate projects that are under way. They include Luana Gardens in St Elizabeth and The Vistas in Runaway Bay, St Ann.

Projects waiting to be rolled out include Sandown Park, a 140 two-bedroom townhouse development; and a complex at Shooters Hill - both in St Catherine.

"My immediate mandate is to review the operations of the agency, look at reducing our overall operating cost, and to chart a way for the agency to become viable that is, at least, make a profit and be able to cover its expenses," he said, adding that a review of "the entire organisational structure is being done to see how the agency will be shaped up in another three years".

Howell started at the HAJ over 20 years ago as an accounting clerk then ascended to a supervisory role after additional studies. He was later promoted to head the sales department.