Integrity Commission says Bogue land

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

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THE Integrity Commission is reporting that a special investigation which the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) initiated into the proposed sale of lands at Bogue Estate by the St James Municipal Corporation, was based on an eight-year-old valuation and is irregular and in breach of the Government's current divestment policy.

According to the report of the investigation, which was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday, “The recommendation, which was made by the St James Parish Council for the sale of the lands at Bogue Estate to the illegal occupants at a cost determined by a 2009 valuation, was in breach of the then applicable provisions of Ministry Paper 34 and the current Policy Framework and Procedures manual for the Divestment of Government-owned Lands (2015)…the recommendation made by the St James Parish Council to utilise a 2009 valuation for the sale of the subject lands will not result in value for money being obtained by the council, and by extension the people and taxpayers of Jamaica. The failure to secure value for money in this transaction would in effect violate the ethic and spirit of the Government of Jamaica divestment policy.”

The OCG (now subsumed into the Integrity Commission) launched the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the proposed sale of the Bogue lands by the St James Municipal Corporation (formerly the St James Parish Council), after receiving a complaint from Councillor Charles Sinclair on November 20, 2013. The allegations concerned the manner in which the sale of the parish council's interest in the property was being conducted.

In addition to concerns that the sale was being pursued based on a 2009 valuation report, Sinclair also alleged that there was a possible conflict of interest in respect of a sitting councillor in relation to the lands.

The OCG has concluded that the circumstances surrounding the sale of the lot occupied by the councillor presents “a perception of a conflict of interest. This is based upon the fact that the referenced lot has been illegally occupied by…a councillor in the St. James Parish Council, since 1998”.

According to the report, the sale of the land is also being negotiated between the St James Municipal Corporation and the councillor, notwithstanding the fact that he has occupied the land prior to being elected as the councillor.

The OCG says it is therefore strongly recommending that the lands be sold based on current market value, and that the municipal corporation seeks to regularise the current illegal occupation of the lands.

“The OCG strongly recommends that the accounting and accountable officers of the St James Parish Council ensure scrupulous compliance with the provisions of the Policy Framework and Procedures Manual for the Divestment of Government-Owned Lands', with a view to ensuring that the sale of government lands are divested in a manner which is consistent with the full application of the stated policy, and that the requisite processes are employed to guard against unnecessary delays, and to ensure, inter alia, efficacy,” the report outlined.

The OCG has also recommended that the St James Municipal Corporation undertakes an immediate and robust verification process to determine the status of lands with which it has an interest and or is the legal owner.

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