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Exchange of land for NHT money being discussed

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment ?browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 28, 2013    

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A suggestion on Tuesday by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding that some of the Crown lands be sold to the National Housing Trust (NHT) in exchange for the $45.6 billion the Government needs from the entity over the next four years is one that appears to have been discussed by the Portia Simpson Miller administration.

Quizzed yesterday on whether Government had given any consideration to this option, Minister with responsibility for Information Senator Sandrea Falconer said discussions are being held.

"What I can say is the NHT is always in need of land and the Government has thousands of acres of land and therefore it is a consideration," Falconer told journalists at yesterday's sitting of the weekly Jamaica House press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston.

She added: "I know discussions are being held, but when those discussions are completed I will inform you further."

In an article published in yesterday's Jamaica Observer, Golding made a number of suggestions about how the state could have acquired the money from the Trust "without violating the fundamental moral obligations the Government has toward the NHT".

Among the suggestions was for the Government to utilise the method used to allow the NHT to fund the building of new barracks for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

Under the arrangement with the JDF, which was finalised last December, the NHT will purchase Government lands held by the commissioner of lands for $1.69 billion. These lands will be used for future NHT housing development.

The money will be transferred to the JDF for the project, which will consists of barracks and dormitories to accommodate 1,400 soldiers, accommodations for 140 senior enlisted officers and 70 officers, storage areas, lecture rooms,

and offices.

"It is a template that could have been used to find a more appropriate solution to the current fiscal crisis," the former prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Falconer said Tuesday's move by the finance minister to table in Parliament the Bill, titled An Act to Amend the National Housing Trust Act, to ensure its right to draw down on the funds over the next four years was not an admission that it received bad legal advice.

A group called Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity (CAPI) has mounted a legal challenge against the Government on the claim that the Administration does not have the right to take money from the Trust to pay off the country's debt as that was not the intended purpose of the contributors' funds.

Said Falconer: "When you look at what we are dealing with -- and I think most people recognise that -- what we want to do is be abundantly clear that persons who may want to delay, through court action, what we need to do we need to get this done in as short a time as possible."

An International Monetary Fund agreement, she said, is dependent on the NHT money, and the country cannot afford to have any delays by court action.

The Bill, which was tabled by Phillips on behalf of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller under whose office the NHT falls, is expected to be debated when the House next sits on Tuesday, March 5.

Yesterday, CAPI said it greeted with outrage and some sense of vindication the move by the Government to amend the National Housing Trust Act to legalise its action.

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