Opposition Leader yet to answer questions over purchase of St Andrew property

Holness needs to answer questions, says Phillips

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 13, 2016

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The verbal wound that has affected the body of Opposition Leader Andrew Holness continues to bleed as the senior politician has still not responded to questions surrounding the purchase of land on which he is building a mansion in Beverly Hills, St Andrew.

Calls have been made by the governing People’s National Party (PNP) for full disclosure in a transaction which involved Holness, but the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader has not yet budged, although his critics believe that there are clear questions for him to answer.

One of the questions being asked pertains to an application for a registered title from the Office of Titles in July 2011. Documents obtained by the Jamaica Observer revealed that the initial application for the title was returned to him, as the Titles Office sought additional information to allow for processing.

Among the reasons given for the documents return were

(1) to "state the occasion on which Andrew M Holness signed the transfer

(2) "to print the transferor’s first name in the signing clause; and

(3) "to initial all amendments."

The office asked Holness to correct and relodge his documents, which was later done.

However, the queer revelation that the land was purchased through a St Lucia-based company named ADMAT Incorporated, which listed Holness as a director, opened the door to greater scrutiny. The puzzling disclosure of a line on the application for the title carried the words "signed while on a visit to Jamaica", although at the time he was the minister of education and lived in his homeland.

The documents bear a signature that is consistent with signatures of the Opposition leader on other documents that he had signed.

The Titles Office document states the purchase price as US$300,000 (or about J$25.8 million at the time).

Holness would later become prime minister, replacing Bruce Golding who resigned in October 2011. However, having served just over two months in the highest political seat of the land, Holness’ party lost the General Election to the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP.

The Titles Office document states that land transaction was handled by attorney-at-law Patrick Bailey and that attorney-at-law Julliet Mair-Rose represented the vendor, Carmen Sylvia Brown.

Contacted yesterday, Holness said that he was planning to host a news conference today, and promised to answer yesterday some of the questions posed by the Sunday Observer, but did not provide the information as the newspaper went to press.

PNP Campaign Director Dr Peter Phillips told a news conference at the PNP’s headquarters on Friday that the Opposition leader needed to answer some pertinent questions on the purchase of the land.

Phillips said that it was important for Holness to declare his assets and, specifically, to respond to questions over the purchase of the land, and the subsequent construction of his house, estimated by two quantity surveyors to cost close to $200 million to construct.

Last year June, JLP insiders told the Sunday Observer that questions about Holness’ judgement in building the massive house at the time had re-emerged in the party.

"The party knows that it will be one of the biggest advertising tools against us in the next election," one JLP insider said.

In response to critics Holness had pointed out that he and his wife Juliet – who is a real estate developer – had been building the house for the past three years and that they have been frugal in their spending.

"About seven years ago I purchased an undeveloped piece of land which I originally intended to hold and develop sometime in the future. However, considering my family needs, my age, and the likely greater future demands on my time and attention, I decided that now was the right time to build," Holness said in a statement to the Sunday Observer at the time.

"We started construction in September 2012. The terrain was steep and rocky, so we spent the first six months hammering rocks to create useable space for building and amenities. We ended up having so much stones that it made practical sense to use them to build all our walls rather than using conventional block and steel. And using the stones saved us the cost of trucking them away," Holness explained.

He said that he and his wife project-manage the construction themselves, which allows them to go at their own pace and within their budget. The result is that the work has been going longer than they expected, but given the calls on their time, they don’t make it a priority or their current focus.

"I know it has attracted much attention, and rightly so. Public figures must get used to the fact that the public will be interested in what we do, how we live, where we get our money, and to whom we are obligated. Though I am an intensely private person by nature, I have learned to live in the public’s attention," Holness said.

"It is also particularly important that there is transparency to assure the public and donors that politicians are not enriching themselves off the public purse or peddling influence. I have always taken a tough stance against corruption and influence peddling, and have kept far from even the suggestion of any such thing. This is why I am a strong supporter of regulating political party registration and financing," the Opposition leader added.

"We are well aware that, aside from the legitimate questions of the public, much of the talk is politically motivated. From my certain knowledge there are other public officials, including ministers of Government, mayors and others who are also building. Like me, they are required to make yearly declarations to the Integrity Commission," Holness said.

He said that the public’s comments are not always informed by facts, and in the gap between the facts and what detractors try to manipulate is a lot of room for mischief.

"We have heard some ridiculous figures being bandied about cost. If I had that magnitude of funds I would be finished building long ago," he said. "Juliet and I often laugh to ourselves when we hear the things people speculate. If they only knew the hard work we put in."

Holness said that while he celebrated the success and achievement of hard-working people, he was disappointed that there are those who make success and achievement a bad thing. "It is a way of thinking that makes us poorer," he argued.

"I would want every hard-working Jamaican to be successful. I preach shared prosperity, not shared poverty. So for every Jamaican who is building your dream, keep on building and ignore the haters," he said.




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