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OCG report false and mischievous, says Pickersgill

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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MINISTER Robert Pickersgill has branded as false and mischievous the Office of the Contractor General's (OCG's) report of a land transaction involving the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC), the National Land Agency and Vin Edwards.

Pickersgill, who holds the Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change portfolio, said the OCG, in its annual report tabled in Parliament last month, repeated its "serious and false allegation" that land was sold by Edwards to NROCC even though the office was informed in January 2012 that that was not true.

Pickersgill was responding to a story in last week's Sunday Observer highlighting the OCG's report.

In that report, the OCG said that Edwards was paid approximately $15 million by NROCC in 2005 for the use of a portion of 52 acres of land, known as Lawrence Field at Grange Lane, St Catherine, for the extension of Highway 2000.

The land was leased to Edwards by the NLA.

However, Edwards told the Sunday Observer that the payment was compensation for the "digging up" of a portion of the land.

"Me and NROCC had no land argument. The thing go straight through me stable; of 25 stalls them took out 12... and I was compensated for that," Edwards said.

"It is total nonsense. Mr Edwards can't get up and sell land out of his head. NROCC must have seen the title before they purchased the land," Edwards added.

According to the OCG report, an agreement was reached between NROCC and Edwards' Vinos Farms in November 2004, in which NROCC agreed to pay Vinos compensation of $15 million "for the termination of his unexpired leasehold interest, building and infrastructure".

The OCG also recommended that "certain administrative action" be taken and accused the NLA of dereliction of duty, given that it has oversight responsibility for the administration and monitoring of the lease agreement concerned.

But in a letter to the editor on Friday, Pickersgill noted that the OCG had, on December 30, 2013, issued an apology correcting the information. However, by this time the damage was already done.

Following is the full text of Minister Pickersgill's letter.

Dear Editor,

I refer to an article entitled '$15m sale of leased land angers OCG', which was published in the Sunday Observer of December 29, 2013.

This issue had its origin as far back as 2009 when queries were made of the Commissioner of Lands by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) concerning property acquired in 2004 by the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC) for the construction of the Highway 2000.

Quite some time elapsed and the matter was again resurrected three years later in 2012 by a letter dated January 25, addressed to the OCG from the Commissioner of Lands, which in part stated:

"1. That the property has not been transferred and/or sold to Mr Vincent Edwards or any other person.

2. The property is still owned by the Commissioner of Lands...."

Please note again, Mr Editor, that this matter started as far back as 2009.

Notwithstanding this notification to the OCG, in its Annual Report tabled in Parliament on December 24, 2013, the OCG repeated the serious and false allegation that land was sold by Mr Vincent Edwards to NROCC.

This, Mr Editor, you will agree has caused serious damage to the integrity and reputation of the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, the National Land Agency (NLA), NROCC and Mr Vincent Edwards, president of the Jamaica Race Horse Trainers Association, who was also described as a former PNP member of parliament.

Admittedly, Mr Editor, the OCG belatedly issued an apology correcting the information, by way of a letter dated December 30, 2013. However, by this time the damage was already done.

Mr Editor, an office of such importance as the OCG's should be meticulously careful in sending out reports of this kind, as they have a residual effect on people's integrity even after correction.

I can say with some amount of certainty that reports of this kind have a debilitating effect on the bureaucracy, especially given the protection that the OCG's office enjoys.

Mr Editor, I therefore regard the observations of the OCG and what he is urging, to be irrelevant, if not mischievous, as his report is laced with inaccuracies.

Indeed, it is escaping me that anyone could believe that land can be legally transferred without the knowledge of the owner except, of course, in cases of fraud.

So, Mr Editor, if heads are to roll as your article is contending, it certainly will not be anyone in the National Land Agency or my ministry regarding this report. On the contrary, I would suggest that apologies are owed to my Ministry, the NLA, NROCC and Mr Vincent Edwards.

Finally Mr Editor, knowing you as I do, I have no doubt that my response will be given the same kind of publicity that was afforded this issue. In the meantime, let me wish for you and your newspaper a productive and climate-friendly 2014.

Yours sincerely,

Robert D Pickersgill, MP

Minister

January 3, 2014

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