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Don't blame me – Davies points fingers at UDC and MOF in land valuation debacle

Published:Monday | May 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Jovan Johnson, Staff Reporter

It was the Ministry of Finance's job to do the valuation of lands being provided to Chinese developers of the US$720 million North South Highway, former transport and works minister, Dr Omar Davies has said as he finally broke his silence on the controversy which reignited last week.

According to Davies he recalls that a valuation process was started.

Davies disclosure comes as public outrage mounts over revelations in a parliamentary committee last week by Ivan Anderson, the managing director of the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC) that there was no valuation of the 850 acres identified out of a total of 1200 acres to be provided.

Davies, who was transport minister in 2012, signed the highway deal on behalf of the Government with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the company that constructed and fully financed the 66-kilometre roadway.

It was fully financed by the developers, Davies said because Jamaica could not afford the cash investments and the land was an important incentive to the investors. According to him, some of the prime lands from Mammee Bay and Caymanas were valuated but it is for the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and the Ministry of Finance to tell the public about the process.

"A lot of the land was valuable land owned by the UDC and the Ministry of Finance had the obligation to seek to compensate the UDC for the land which would come from the UDC," he told The Gleaner.

"There was valuation but I don't know if all the different parcels were valued. But the Ministry of Finance initiated valuation. Some valuations were done and I'm not stepping away from it but this was the Ministry of Finance's job."

He added that NROCC, which falls under the Transport Ministry, "was simply involved in the technical relationship with the construction firm".

"Nobody can operate that way whether in private or public sector," Douglas Stiebel, a fellow of the Jamaica Institute of Architects has told The Gleaner. Somebody needs to be fired, quite frankly."

The Office of the Contractor General is probing the highway deal.

Davies had unsuccessfully used the courts to fight the OCG's attempts to monitor the highway project. 

The North South Highway runs from Caymanas in St Catherine to Mammee Bay in St Ann.