Clean hands now on the NHT
National Housing Trust headquarters on Park Boulevard

There is a doctrine in law that enticed me as a law student and, from time to time, I reach for it when confronted by arguments I find unfair or downright disingenuous.

The clean hands doctrine essentially means that, as a general rule, equity does not aid a party at fault and is sometimes stated as, “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”

It means the court will deny equitable relief to a person who has violated good faith with respect to the subject of the claim.

DOES THE PEOPLE’S NATIONAL PARTY (PNP) HAVE CLEAN HANDS?

The maxim can be extended in its application to life in general. In the current case, the PNP wants the public to judge them positively on their stewardship of the National Housing Trust (NHT), historically, and was offended by comments myself and Councillor Charles Sinclair made at the Cambridge Divisional Conference a few Sundays ago.

The comments have riled members of the Opposition or, better yet, pricked their conscience with no less than their General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell dedicating numerous column inches to defending their stewardship.

Sadly for the PNP, though they might attempt, we cannot argue with facts. What the PNP attempts is a slight of hand to cover what was a less-than-stellar stewardship of the NHT and housing development in Jamaica. It does not come with clean hands and the people of Jamaica have judged the party at fault.

NHT FACTS

According to the auditor general’s 2015 performance audit of the NHT, the facts are:

“In December 2012, the NHT board approved the purchase of the loan of $180 million from a merchant bank in exchange for the assets owned by Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL) valued at $311.16 million. NHT and the mortgagee signed the sales agreement on March 15, 2013 and finalised the transactions on May 27, 2013. During the course of the board’s deliberation in December 2012, the chairman advised that several options could be contemplated for the use of the property. However, there was no evidence that the board decided on the operational activities that would be undertaken at the property.”

The report would further go on to state that, “NHT acknowledged that the requisite Ministry of Finance approval was not obtained for the engagement of the officers and the payment of the related emoluments. This is in breach of Section 20 of the PBMA [Public Bodies Management and Accountability (Amendment)] Act, 2014 and Ministry of Finance and the Public Service Circular No 1626 dated April 6, 2010.”

Since then, the NHT has not been able to sell the property. The company has racked up tens of millions of dollars in losses on the property that no one seems to want.

The PNP has yet to fully explain to the country this most egregious act of purchasing Outameni, a failed experiment that indebted its owner and was purchased with the NHT contributions of hard-working Jamaicans. To this day contributors are still paying the price through the maintenance of the property by the NHT. As such, the PNP continues to tarnish the good work of the entity.

JLP VS PNP STEWARDSHIP

We can compare like for like in the stewardship of the NHT under respective administrations.

Housing starts under the PNP between 2012 and 2016:

2012 — 2,824

2013 — 1,863

2014 — 1,703

2015 — 1,995

2016 — 1,859

Housing starts under the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) between 2017 and 2020:

2017 — 3,010

2018 — 5,397

2019 — 6,474

2020 — 4,086

Facts have no friends. A comparison of the last two administrations clearly shows that there have been more housing starts under the JLP Administration than that of the PNP. The comparison is stark and demonstrates the argument that better and more prosperous hands are now in charge of the NHT.

PNP HANDS-ON STYLE?

In 2003 the NHT purchased a property from PDK Limited, the main shareholder of said company was Dr Paul Robertson, who, at the time, was a vice-president of the then governing PNP and the minister of development.

The NHT, it has been revealed, spent $62.5 million to purchase the property in St Mary.

It was reported at the time that a performance audit of the NHT by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis revealed that, “A technical team at the NHT on November 23, 2002 advised members of the then board that a site visit to the property showed that some areas of the land were very steep, and development of a residential scheme would be challenging. The technical staff concluded that it would not recommend the acquisition of the land.”

The board, led by a chairman appointed by the then prime minister, purchased the property anyway. The NHT has up to now been unable to sell this 733-acre property as it is not suitable for housing.

Many people are of the view that, like Outameni, the St Mary purchase was to assist connected parties in their financial difficulties at the peril of NHT contributors — the taxpayers of Jamaica. Another bailout for a loyal supporter at the cost of contributions of the Jamaican working class?

THE PNP DOES NOT COME TO THE CONVERSATION ON THE NHT WITH CLEAN HANDS

The Opposition would do well to remember its history in the housing sector of Jamaica. We can recall the stain we inherited at the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC).

On March 16, 2012, PNP minister with responsibility for housing, at the time Dr Morais Guy, referred to Operation PRIDE as “this excellent concept”. He went on to praise the scheme as an excellent vehicle for low-income housing. This was a very noble statement, except that it did not tell the full story or the full scheme.

The late Edward Seaga, in a column on April 17, 2019 for the Jamiaca Observer, recalled the history of Operation PRIDE, “The auditor general’s report of April 10, 1997 revealed the widespread inefficiency, corruption, and mismanagement that characterised Operation PRIDE.”

In 2018 the manager of the NHDC revealed that, “What happened was that over $8 billion was expended, but at the time just over $2 billion could be collected.

It was the same Operation PRIDE that led to the resignation, in 2002, of Dr Karl Blythe after a damning report of alleged political interference and inadequate monitoring of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

It was reported in The Gleaner in a 2018 article titled ‘Flashback! Danhai case still stalled as NHDC writes off more than $2b in Operation Pride losses’.

“More than a decade after east Kingston businessman Danhai Williams and six others were charged with 87 counts of fraud involving the Operation PRIDE scheme operated by the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC), there has been no new development in the case which involved losses of half a billion dollars.”(The Gleaner, Friday, February 16, 2018)

In the article it was stated that the “prosecution, which hung on testimonies of two employees of the NHDC — Gerald Tobias, a quantity surveyor, and Lloyd McLean — remains in the system as both men left the island and have lived overseas since”.

This is the way the PNP managed housing in Jamaica.

It is this current JLP Administration that, since 2016, has been working to reduce the debt owed by the NHDC. The debt is now approximately $600 million, coming from over $3 billion when we took over.

When it comes to housing the PNP does not come to the conversation with clean hands. It is this Government that has demonstrated fiscal prudence in protecting the money of taxpayers.

The PNP general secretary can spare us the glorious intentions of the 1970s as Jamaicans are now dealing with the pointed realities of its mismanagement over the last three decades.

The evidence is clear, compared to the PNP, under the JLP clean hands now manage the NHT.

Robert Morgan (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Robert Morgan is minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for information.

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Robert Morgan

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