In November 2014 the National Housing Trust paid some $180 million dollars to purchase a loss making tourist attraction, Outameni Experience located in Trelawny. The company that owned the attraction is Orange Valley Farms limited and the directors of the company are ‘good friends’ with the PNP administration.
The managing director of the company, Orange Valley Farms Limited, Lenbert Little Whyte, when asked about the transaction by the press curtly replied that it was really none of their business. When that wasn’t holding water with the press he then reverted to the time worn populist defence mechanism of claiming racism. Incidentally this individual was found to be incredible in the Supreme Court case of Capital and Credit Merchant Bank v Lenbert Little-Whyte and Cheryl Ryman in September 2012. http://supremecourt.gov.jm/sites/default/files/judgments/Capital%20and%20Credit%20Merchant%20Bank%20Ltd%20v%20Lenbert%20Little-White%20%26%20Cheryl%20Ryman.pdf
The NHT Board legislated to oversee trust funds to build houses for the contributors decided to purchase the Outameni Experience as a commercial investment in 2014. The Chairman of the NHT Board then, Easton Douglas, said the NHT bought the property because quote “it has facilities that could contribute to the quality of life of the people in and around Trelawny and many other parishes” unquote.
He went on to say further that the board was not concerned about making a profit, but that it was a tangible, living investment”. So arrogant was the board that the Prime Minister who has direct responsibility for the Trust was not made aware of this significant transaction.
Now a year after that fateful decision to spend NHT contributors’ hard earned money on the failed Outameni property attraction it has been put up for sale to any interested third party.
Back door deals and spinning tales
The National Housing Trust Act provides an opportunity for families to own a home of their own which is critical to maintaining family cohesion. In Singapore Lee Kuan Yew made his country extraordinarily successful by insisting on a similar scheme whereby Singaporeans contribute to a central fund and they are able to draw on that fund to buy housing. He sensibly recognized that housing is critical to maintaining social order and family unity.
In 1976 when the Michael Manley administration ushered the act it was clearly the intention to provide housing solutions to lower income Jamaicans so they could feel pride in owning their own home and just as important being able to pass on an asset to their succeeding generations. Home ownership is critical to moving up the ladder to the middle class.
The purchase of the Outameni property was to bail out a ‘friend of the PNP’ who was in dire straits with taxpayers’ money in clear breach of the National Housing Trust Act. The NHT Act is legislated to provide housing solutions to the contributors of the fund period. It is a violation of the act to cite section 4 of the said act which reads “to do such other things as may be advantageous, necessary or expedient for or in connection with the proper performance of its functions under this Act” as the law that allowed the NHT Board to act as they did in that blatant breach of trust transaction.
Incidentally the act was amended in 2005 by the Peoples’ National Party to permit for the raiding of the fund and that gave them another opportunity to deplete the fund by over $44 billion Jamaican dollars to secure IMF test passing.
The NHT Act is specifically to “add to and improve the existing supply of housing” and the purchase of the Outameni attraction does not fulfill this section of the Act.
The NHT board has refused to provide the minutes of that fateful meeting when this decision to purchase the attraction was made. The public is to be kept deliberately uninformed of how the NHT, a public entity, used public money which obviously tells you the whole transaction reeked to high heaven.
Then in the last week the NHT fund is being raided again. This time the NHT is to pump $10 million dollars into the Peckham Bamboo project in Clarendon North West. Does the NHT Board have no shame at least?
The National Housing Trust needs a forensic audit
The NHT Board continues to act unlawfully even after the Outameni sweetheart deal as the investment in the Peckham Bamboo project is another act ultra vires to the NHT Act.
The appointment of some new members to the board of the NHT since April of this year has made no difference to how the board under the PNP continues to treat contributors’ money when they spend it on non-housing projects. A trust fund is to be used specifically for the benefit of the beneficiaries and the board either doesn’t understand trust principles or flagrantly disregards them. Either way the NHT board under both leaderships of Easton Douglas and now under Dr. Carlton Davis must be terminated as they continue to act not in the best interest of the contributors to the trust fund.
It appears that the board members are under the mistaken belief that they are financiers of non-housing projects and it is the nebulous amendment in 2005 to the functions of the Trust that has created the apparent confusion. But an act must be considered in its context of how it came about and the discussions that were had around its formation in 1976.
The National Housing Trust was established in 1976 to address the housing shortage which resulted from a growing population and the inadequate annual output of houses by the public and private sectors. The institution was given a broad mandate:
With the various projects being funded by the National Housing Trust outside its legislative authority it is critical that a forensic audit be commenced with immediate effect. A new board should also be appointed concurrently selected by the Public Service Commission until the NHT Board receives a clean bill of health from the audit.