BY BALFORD HENRY & ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Sunday Observer senior reporters firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
THERE is growing concern among members of parliament (MPs) about the handling of the housing programme for indigents through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) and Food for the Poor (FFP) under the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing.
The issues surfaced at last Tuesday's sitting of the House of Representatives at Gordon House, when Minister without Portfolio in the ministry Dr Morais Guy answered questions tabled previously by the Opposition spokesman on Housing, Water and Environment Dr Horace Chang.
Dr Guy informed the House that the primary mechanism for the delivery of housing benefits to indigents is the Government of Jamaica/Food for the Poor five-year Wooden Houses initiative, which is administered through JEEP.
He confirmed that under the programme each MP is allotted 20 houses which are to be built in his/her constituency, but explained that because of the tardiness of most MPs in submitting the necessary documentation for their constituents, FFP has been building a number of the houses on its own accord from its own database. He explained that the MPs need to provide the proper documentation to satisfy FFP's contractual requirements to build at least 100 of these houses per month.
Figures produced by the minister showed that of 17 MPs who should have benefited from the programme in the already completed first phase, only three actually benefited: Marisa Dalrymple Philibert (South Trelawny), who got 20 houses; Patrick Atkinson (North Trelawny), who got 10 houses; Desmond McKenzie (West Kingston), five houses; Ronald Thwaites (Central Kingston), three houses; and Dr Guy, one house.
Only 39 of the 72 houses built in that phase were done based on the MPs' recommendations, the other 33 were built by FFP from its own list.
But McKenzie, who is also Opposition spokesperson on Urban Renewal, Rural Development and Local Government, insists that the five houses built in West Kingston were done based on his request for housing for over 400 fire victims who have lost their homes over the past six years.
"I got five houses based on an application for assistance for persons who were burnt out of their homes since 2007. It has nothing to do with indigent housing," McKenzie contended.
He said that MPs are being hampered by the amount of documentation required to meet the FFP's conditions, and accused the charity of not living up to its obligations in terms of how it is utilising public resources.
At last Wednesday's meeting of Parliament's Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, two government MPs, Richard Parchment (South East St Elizabeth) and Fitz Jackson (South St Catherine) criticised the process, as well.
Parchment, who was on the list for the first phase, admitted that he has been advised by Food for the Poor that some of his documentation was incomplete, but argued that this did not justify the charity's inaction, as it was taking too long to construct other homes which have been properly documented while FFP continues to build from its own list.
Jackson said he had strong reservations as well and suggested that FFP update the MPs on all the housing requests pertaining to their constituencies, including those they are undertaking on their own.
Project Director of JEEP Lucille Brodber assured the committee that there was no sinister agenda by Food for the Poor. However, she noted that the capacity at the charitable organisation would not allow it to deliver all the houses in the originally promised time, because of the intervention of Hurricane Sandy.
"Everybody won't be able to get their 20 [houses] in the first 12 months of the contract. Each MP had been asked to send in 20 persons who were in need of housing, however, 500 of those houses had been reallocated to Hurricane Sandy-affected persons. So, MPs will be unable to get that full 20 this year, until next year," Brodber explained.
Nonetheless, she urged the MPs that the sooner they sent in all the required documentation, the sooner they would get all 20 houses promised.
Because of the backlog caused by the MPs' tardiness from the first month of the programme, 113 houses were built in the second month, all of which were built by FFP from its own database. They include 13 in Parchment's South East St Elizabeth; 10 each in Dr Fenton Ferguson's East St Thomas and Everald Warmington's South West St Catherine; and 12 in Dr Andrew Wheatley's South Central St Catherine.
In the meantime, FFP will be building 30 additional units in St Mary at its own expense, as only one has been built in the parish from the MPs' lists so far.
FFP has also agreed to build an additional seven units in South East St Elizabeth at its own expense after admitting that construction of regular housing units was hampered by the replacement of existing units damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Dr Guy explained that building of houses for the hurricane victims is ongoing and although 425 names had been sent into FFP, only 261 houses have already been completed. Approximately 103 persons were living on sites where construction cannot be done, and will have to be relocated. However, he assured the House that the hurricane victims' programme should be completed in time for a resumption of the regular housing construction programme by mid-March.
Since September 2012, the Government has partnered with Food for the Poor to provide 9,000 housing solutions over the next five years for low-income earners. A total of 1,800 structures were to be provided yearly, and a contract was signed for construction of the first 1,200 wooden houses and 600 concrete units over the first 12 months.