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Bartlett wants timeline on payment of $50b owed to NHT

Published:Wednesday | July 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Chairman of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) Edmund Bartlett yesterday demanded specific timelines from the National Housing Trust (NHT) on the collection of $48 billion in statutory payments owed by the Government to the housing entity.

The committee was told that the sum of $16 billion for employers' contribution from government departments and agencies has been outstanding from as far back as 2007.

Onika Miller, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), said another $2 billion became due since 2008, adding that the outstanding amounts were subject to interest and penalties over the years, which has pushed the total up to nearly $50 billion.

The chief accounting officer at the OPM, which has responsibility for the NHT, sought to explain that the Trust was in dialogue with the Ministry of Finance on how the arrears can be paid. She said one option the NHT and the ministry discussed was the exchange of suitable land for housing owned by the Government for the debt owed.

"We remain in dialogue with finance and until it is resolved, it's not going to go away," the permanent secretary noted.

However, a seemingly unimpressed Bartlett insisted that Miller should outline to the committee a clear plan with timelines on how the huge sums that are owed would be paid to the housing entity.

"Government has to lead the way. Government cannot be a major debtor to itself, and then exert moral authority to collect from the private sector," the PAAC chairman insisted.

Said Miller: "I can assure you, we need no admonition in that regard; we are acutely sensitive to this issue and we have engaged proactively with the ministry of finance in that regard."

Committee member Fitz Jackson urged the committee not to press the permanent secretary beyond her remit, saying "what she has said she cannot answer anymore and if she tries to answer anymore she is in trouble".