Deal with the HAJ rot

Wednesday, March 12, 2014    

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EVEN the blind among us can see that something is terribly wrong at the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

The resignation on Monday of Mr Carl Bennett as managing director, after a mere three months in the job, is the clearest sign yet that whatever is happening there needs to be investigated.

As our story yesterday reported, Mr Bennett was the third managing director to leave the agency in the past eight months, after Mr Joseph Shoucair left on July 28.

Mr Shoucair, we noted, was followed by Ms Rosemarie Brown, who had only been promoted to the position on August 1, but resigned on November 11, leaving a month later.

More signs of the disquiet affecting the agency emerged over that same period when resignation letters were submitted by five other senior managers.

Before that, at least six senior managers resigned between April and May 2013, joining 31 other employees who, we are told, either took voluntary separation, resigned or did not have their contracts renewed up to October 2003.

In the absence of an explanation from the HAJ or the minister who has portfolio responsibility for the agency, we cannot easily discount the claim being made by the workers that what is afoot here is politically motivated house-cleaning.

What is most unfortunate is that such a claim is not foreign to the way we operate our politics in Jamaica. In fact, the practice of stockpiling public agencies with political faithful has become somewhat of an accepted procedure used by both major political parties to reward support.

Very little thought, if any, is given to the ability and qualification of those being rewarded to perform the functions of the jobs awarded to them.

The upshot, in most cases, is a cohort of incompetent individuals unleashed on the public and who have no concept of service or professionalism. Worse, they really don't care, because their salaries are not dependent on their performance.

Housing, it appears, is a milch cow for politicians and their blinkered supporters, for, as our story yesterday pointed out, the HAJ, over its lifetime, has been at the centre of a number of scandals that have cost the country more than $9 billion.

That figure is set to increase this fiscal year as last December the HAJ reported to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that its projected loss will be more than $300 million.

That's a staggering figure when placed in the context of our current tough economic climate and the fact that the Government is asking Jamaicans to make sacrifices.

Add to that the fact that many citizens still do not have access to essential social services, which the Government says it is unable to fund, and you will get an idea of the seriousness of this issue.

The Government, it appears, is sticking its head in the sand on this HAJ matter. However, this kind of sore will never heal without the necessary attention.

Gangrene has already set in at the HAJ. The Government needs to do what must be done to prevent it spreading.





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