PSOJ president recommends NHT chairman be sacked for country’s good

PSOJ president recommends NHT chairman be sacked for country’s good


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

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PRIVATE Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Chis Zacca yesterday called on the prime minister to remove Easton Douglas from the chairmanship of the National Housing Trust (NHT) board "for the good of the country".

At the same time, Zacca recommended that Douglas’ replacement work with the finance ministry to strengthen the reporting and oversight relationships between the agency and its portfolio minister.

Zacca made the recommendations in an article (see the full text online) submitted to the Jamaica Observer in which he charged that Douglas does not understand that the NHT board’s decision to purchase the Outameni tourist attraction was inconsistent with the covenant governing the collaborative partnership between Government and stakeholders in the Partnership for Jamaica agreement.

The NHT board has been under intense fire for the past few weeks over its use of $180 million to purchase the failing attraction, with many critics arguing that the action is not in keeping with the NHT’s core function to provide affordable housing for working-class Jamaicans.

Douglas and a few board members have resisted calls to resign, insisting that they have done nothing wrong, neither did they break any laws, as the purchase represented a good investment for the NHT and its contributors.

Douglas had also told journalists at a news conference on November 24 that in its 38 years, the NHT board has never had to inform the responsible minister on decisions similar to the purchase of the property.

Yesterday, Zacca pointed to that comment, saying that it misses the core principle of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ) covenant. "It is not about the technicality of whether laws were broken or what was past practice under failed public finance management paradigms," Zacca said.

"Instead, it is about whether the NHT’s actions were consistent with the PFJ covenant governing the collaborative partnership between government and stakeholders in Jamaica’s future who have been asked to make enormous sacrifices." Added Zacca: "The very substance of the dialogue under the new covenant is one of respectful, collaborative dialogue with those with contending views, and by his own words and deeds Mr Douglas just doesn’t seem to fit this new paradigm."

Zacca submitted his article at about the same time that Simspon Miller answered more questions on the growing controversy and faced further grilling from the Opposition in Parliament.

During the House sitting, Speaker Michael Peart sided with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness that Parliament has a right to access documents containing information on the Outameni purchase.

Holness had tabled questions two weeks ago asking Simpson Miller to submit all correspondences relating to the Outameni transaction, including letters, notes, recordings and contracts to Parliament.

However, in her response in the House yesterday, Simpson Miller said that the correspondences and documents would be sent to the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) and the Auditor General (AG).

"Which are the appropriate bodies to receive such submissions," Simpson Miller said. But Holness insisted that Parliament was a higher body than both the OCG and the AG, and had the authority to request the documents.

"This body, the House of Parliament, has the authority to requisition such documents from the prime minister, and by these questions we have (asked) and the prime minister, by her answer, has refused to deliver these documents," the opposition leader said.

Leader of the House of Representatives, Phillip Paulwell, rose in support of the prime minister’s position, pointing out that both the Auditor General’s Department and the OCG were commissions of Parliament.

"If they are engaged in investigating this matter, it is entirely inappropriate for the Parliament, at this stage, to request those documents," Paulwell said.

But Holness cited previous occasions when requests were made by both sides in the House for information on consultants employed by government, and they were provided on those occasions.

"There is no way that the Parliament of Jamaica, by requesting this information from the prime minister, could in any way place a danger on investigations being done by the auditor general or contractor general," Holness reacted.

He asked the Speaker to give a direction to the House that the prime minister should make the documents available to Parliament. "I think that it is in order that the documents be provided," Speaker Peart advised the House.

Paulwell said he needed clarification as to whether the Speaker was referring to the same documents which have been made available to the auditor general and the contractor general. The Speaker said "yes, yes".

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