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Senior KSAMC officials interdicted over building permit worries

Published:Wednesday | December 22, 2021 | 12:14 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter

The deputy head of planning and a surveyor at the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) have been sent on leave with full pay as the authority faces more scrutiny over its approvals and enforcement of building permits.

The Local Government Services Commission advised Robert Hill, the KSAMC’s chief executive officer, in a letter Monday that Shawn Martin, a field inspector who is also the second in command of planning, and assistant building surveyor Calvet Sutherland were interdicted on full salary effective December 21.

Individual letters were also sent to Martin and Sutherland and copied to Hill.

The commission said the two officers will remain off the job until investigations into building and planning approvals given by the KSAMC.

However, in the letter, there was no mention of any specific case involving the men.

The commission also advised Hill that a report on the approvals for premises cited in a letter from the corporation should be submitted by January 5, 2022, and in time for a meeting of the commissioners on January 13.

It is not clear which premises formed the basis of the KSAMC’s apparent complaint to the commission that is responsible for the hiring and disciplining of persons at the local government level.

However, Martin was the subject of criticisms from the Supreme Court that ruled in December 2020 that approvals given by the KSAMC and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to the developers of 17 Birdsucker Drive, St Andrew, were done illegally and with breaches already committed.

In insisting that the KSAMC followed proper procedures in issuing permits to WAMH Development Limited, Martin told the court that he followed the development order for the area that outlined the number of rooms per acre for properties.

However, the judge said there was no recorded evidence that Martin did so.

“I would think that for the sake of transparency, a public servant who is exercising a statutory duty would reveal his thought process at all material times and, more specifically, reveal the link between the facts and his conclusions,” Justice Georgiana Fraser said.

Martin did not specify which order he used, but the judge said the court was only aware of the one that took effect in 2017.

WAMH was given permission to build a multifamily dwelling on a 0.38-acre property, which was less than the minimum half-acre stipulated by the order.

“He failed to appreciate that granting the building permit would lead to overdevelopment of the lot, as on the admission of NEPA and the NRCA, this allowance was, in fact, exceeded by five rooms. Nowhere in his evidence has Martin demonstrated how he resolved this issue,” the judge said.

Residents had taken the matter to court.

Only last week, corruption allegations were levelled against the KSAMC after it admitted that an “administrative error” led to the approval of strata plans for 14 apartment units at the Birdsucker development although it had only been granted permits for 12.

The admission came from Xavier Chevannes, chief engineer of the corporation, which is appealing the Supreme Court ruling.

According to Chevannes, the KSAMC realised its error after reviewing documents filed on November 30, 2021 by Tony Patel, broadcast journalist and one of 10 residents who successfully challenged the building and environmental permits that were granted to WAMH in 2017 and 2018.

The KSAMC did not explain how the error was made and who was responsible.

The approved drawings have also never been presented before the courts.

The residents have contended that KSAMC CEO Robert Hill’s signature on a document from a municipal official “appears identical to the signature giving approval to the developer’s strata plan, suggesting that he was the one who committed the purported error”.

WAMH’s principals are Wayne Marsh and Andrew Henry.

Meanwhile, another judge has criticised the KSAMC and raised questions about how the authority and NEPA were enabling corruption by failing to do their jobs.

Justice Natalie Hart-Hines made the observation after confirming that on her visit to an apartment complex at 10 Roseberry Drive in St Andrew in October, she found that Belgravia Development Company had constructed 32 bedrooms on a property that was approved for just 12.

Belgravia’s principal is Cliff Rochester-Butler.