Unjustifiable NHT

Some of the greatest wrongs in this world are not deemed unlawful but are simply unjust and unjustifiable. They leave one with a sense of being violated and left exposed. Perhaps the best I have heard this put in a case against the treatment of workers by the Jamaica Flour Mills is thus – ‘the treatment of the workers showed man’s inhumanity to man’ – this is a case where the action of the Flour Mills was characterized by the Court of Appeal as unjustifiable.

Not all incidents would bring a feeling of this exact kind but the sense of injustice one feels is something very close to that.

In recent years, the National Housing Trust which was set up with a particular statutory mandate to provide housing for the poor has been the entity to which governments go without batting an eyelid as to whether withdrawing funds from it is within its mandate or not.

The first major draw down on the NHT was for $5 billion by P.J. Patterson – who in the face of public outcry said it was a one-off transaction. As I now recall, to regularize that transactions, the NHT Act was amended after the action of Patterson was done.

In 2012 or so, the country was told that the NHT would give up $11 billion yearly for the next 4 years to the government’s treasury so that payments could be made to the IMF. Again, the Simpson-Miller government made the announcement and then attempted to amend the law to reflect that intention. That $44 billion four year drawdown is now subject to a court challenge in the Supreme Court and is to be heard in May, 2015.

This recent purchase of property in Orange Grove by the NHT for purposes yet fully understood as positions change depending on whether one is hearing from the Board Chairman, Easton Douglas or the Prime Minister, has been an understandably contentious transaction.

The Chairman at a press conference in all his defiance says during the 38 year history of the NHT, the line Minister who happens to be the Prime Minister has never been informed about any transaction by the NHT.

Easton Douglas fails to mention and put into proper context all the circumstances that would cause this particulate deal to be different from all others – if indeed no reporting was done in the past:

(a) this is an awful lot of money to be drawn from the trust for purchase of property especially given the two mentioned above;
(b) the current business on the property at Orange Grove falls way outside the scope and mandate of the NHT;
(c) there is not even the slightest resemblance in what the NHT does and what Outameni, which occupied land at Orange Grove, is about;
(d) NHT had information or ought to have information on the projected financial viability of Orange Grove in light of its past dealings;
(e) All previous withdrawals from the NHT where the provision of housing has not been the focus HAVE been contentious – ALL.

That the NHT Board overlooked all of the above and bought the property for $180 million is a breach of their roles as fiduciaries. A fiduciary has a duty to exercise skill and care in its dealings. If the fiduciaries fail as I believe they did, then the Prime Minister as line Minister should not.

The Prime Minister has failed in:
(a) Failing to establish frequent and proper briefing by the Board on all matters touching the NHT especially one that had all the designs of being very contentious;
(b) Accepting and delivering to the people of Jamaica a script that made no sense and in which large chunks of it were out of line with previous statements by the Board Chairman;
(c) Having been informed of the improper transaction, the Prime Minister instructed the Board to explore; whether the costly purchase could be used for among other things -tourism venture – a purpose that falls way outside the NHT mandate;
(d) Being presented with a case of breach of duty by Board members at the highest level, she failed to appreciate that there was a breach and therefore failed to act appropriately and remove the Board;

Those actions are akin to the treatment of the workers of the Jamaica Flour Mills years ago – ‘unjustifiable’ – exacerbated because it is the Prime Minister who has failed her wider constituents opting instead to appease her political constituents.


About emilyshields

Attorney-at-Law, Partner -Gifford Thompson & Shields; Broadcast Journalist; Host of RJR's Hotline - www.rjr94fm.com; Gunner Twitter- @emilymshields
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