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Housing agency turmoil

By Balford Henry Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2014    

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The mass departure of senior managers from Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), which started last April, continued yesterday with the sudden resignation of Managing Director Carl Bennett, after only three months on the Job.

Bennett said yesterday that his departure is due to a "conflict of vision", and that he was not forced to leave. However, he was the third managing director to leave the agency in the past eight months, after Joseph Shoucair left on July 28.

Shoucair was followed by Rosemarie Brown, who had only been promoted to the position on August 1, but tendered her resignation on November 11 and left on December 11. Bennett is understood to have succeeded her on December 12.

At least five other senior managers have resigned over the same period, including former Human Resource Manager Donna McNaughton; Senior Manager (Project Implementation) Dave Hylton, both of whom left on December 31; Legal Corporate Secretary Simone Rattray, who left in January; and former Acting Senior Manager/Senior Engineer and Project Manager Fitzroy Jones, who also resigned during the period, but whose departure date could not be confirmed.

Prior to that, at least six senior management personnel left between April and May 2013, including senior managers Donnamarie Ashton, Thelma Cooke Wallace, Richard Jones, Helen Bloomfield; engineer Andrew Samuda; and assistant project manager Elvis White.

They joined 31 other employees of the agency who either took voluntary separation, resigned or did not have their contracts renewed up to October 2003.

The agency's unionised staff have been restive since yesterday's development, requiring the intervention of board chair Maureen Webber and some board members holding an emergency meeting, which was followed by a meeting with the workers and their union, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU).

BITU Vice-President Alvin Sinclair, who joined the workers at the meeting, said that his members are convinced that the "house-cleaning" is politically motivated and aimed at removing staff members whom the board are not comfortable with. Webber is a former deputy general secretary of the ruling People's National Party (PNP) and the board also includes PNP Councillor Kevin Taylor (Duhaney Park Division).

It was also learnt yesterday that two members of the board of directors have resigned with the latest developments, however, their names could not be ascertained.

In the meantime, the board has appointed one of its members, Dr Lanie Oakley-Williams, to overlook the agency until a new managing director is appointed. Dr Oakley-Williams is the senior general manager of the National Housing Trust's Customer Relations Management Division.

The HAJ was created in 2008 with the incorporation of the National Housing Development Corporation following the merger of the Caribbean Housing Finance Corporation, the National Housing Corporation and Operation PRIDE (Programme for Resettlement and Integration Development Enterprises).

The agency has suffered a number of scandals over its lifetime, which has cost the country over $9 billion.

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