Unnecessary turbulence

Phillips blames Integrity Commission for confusion around the value of his real estate assets

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 23, 2019

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Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips is convinced that a simple footnote from the Integrity Commission would have prevented the scepticism and confusion that have surrounded the declared real estate assets held by his family in the summary of his statutory declarations published by the commission.

The Integrity Commission had reported that the Phillips family had real estate assets valued at $3.6 million, sparking speculation about the accuracy of his declaration.

But in a letter to The Gleaner on Tuesday the opposition leader's wife, noted attorney-at-law Sandra Minott-Phillips, said the commission had been told that the current market value for the house they own was $48 million, while a “tract of land” owned by her was valued at $10 million.

In response the commission defended its published summary of the declarations of the opposition leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness as it pointed out that it listed the price at which the assets were acquired and not the current market value.

Yesterday Phillips told journalists that he had seen the confusion that the commission's summary would have caused and had warned that body about it.

“I said to them 'you need to explain the difference' and perhaps by the way of a footnote, or an asterisk… that purchase price is not market value, and purchase price in 1991 is not the market value of today,” said Phillips.

“They clearly determined that they were going to use the purchase price, and they said up to yesterday (Wednesday) that they don't think they did anything wrong, nor am I to say that they did anything wrong. My obligation is to report to the Integrity Commission, they have an obligation to talk to the public.

“So there was no error. But when someone seems to take the opportunity to impugn, in the media, my integrity, by suggesting that I had under-reported the value, my wife — who felt her own integrity was being assailed — saw fit to respond,” added Phillips as he underscored that he reported as the law requires him to do.

The opposition leader reiterated that when he pointed out the issue to the Integrity Commission it was because he saw the confusion that would come.

“Because people don't draw the distinction between an assumed market value and the purchase price — so said, so done.”

According to Phillips, he is not picking an argument with the Integrity Commission because he can understand why the commissioners used the purchase price in the gazetted summary.

“Their purpose is to ensure than anybody buying anything can support the purchase with the income that they report. But if you purchase something 10 years ago and the value is 10 times that, it doesn't speak to the issue of integrity. That is just a function of the market. Their purpose is to deal with the issue of integrity,” argued Phillips.

He said both the purchase price and the current market value could be listed in the summary of his statutory declaration as they are both useful but serve different purposes.

“Somebody might want to know how much money 'Tom' has and that might be something to them, or what is the value, but that doesn't necessarily speak to how you acquired assets, which is the main purpose of the commission.

“But maybe because they are not so embedded in the issues of public opinion, or the way public opinion operates, they did not grasp that this problem could happen. But my response, or wife's response in this matter, was [in reaction] to any suggestion which would have had a very negative effect on my reputation, and on hers, that there was some deliberate process of misrepresentation. It is not so,” declared Phillips.


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