NHT's Out of Money Experience

Administrator on November 24, 2014, 7:22 am 1743 3
NHT's Out of Money Experience

What may have began as an ordinary story of the acquisition of property by the National Housing Trust (NHT) has now escalated into one of the most contentious stories in recent memory. The purchase of the property on which the Outameni Experience is located has created a firestorm of controversy that has touched both administrations of the Government of Jamaica. Public outrage has been sounded about the price tag - $180 million dollars for ten acres of land!, and the apparent lack of transparency that surrounded the purchase. If the board of the NHT is to be believed, that all it purchased was the land, then the price tag for each acre would be $18 million. A scandalous figure given the NHT's mandate to provide affordable housing for its contributors.

Adding to the confusion was the answers from the responsible minister, the Prime Minister, the Most honourable Portia Simpson Miller, who denied knowledge of the NHT's acquisition before the story was exposed in the press in October, 2014. Yet the evidence is that the property was acquired by the NHT back in March 2013! The Jamaican public is just now hearing about the purchase long after the transaction has already gone cold.

The Prime Minister's assertions also are that what was purchased was the land only, and not the business known as Outameni Experience. Not only is the responses in Parliament by the Prime Minister begging more questions, the apparent muddled responses from the NHT Board, and individual spokespersons, including the Chairman Mr. Easton Douglas, present confusion on exactly what the NHT had bought. Was it the land only? The property inclusive of the buildings and other assets? Did the acquisition include the Outameni Experience? What is also alarming is that the NHT plans to plug another $100 million to refurbish the property even as the purpose of the property's acquisition is yet to be properly articulated.

Lennie Little-White, the main figure behind the concept broke his silence only to reveal the tangled web that culminated into the NHT purchase. The fact that he had approached the former Prime Minister, the Honourable Bruce Golding for help and was directed to the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) at the time, was just one step in the process he took in his efforts to save the plunging attraction. As the Outameni Experience continued its downward trajectory, Mr. Little White approached the NHT which took him up on his proposal to buy him out. Mr. Little-White and the Outameni were no strangers to bail outs, having secured an $80 million debt write off from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) prior to March 2013. The latest debacle could simply be regarded as another bail out, with the exception that this time, every attempt is being made to sell the NHT's actions as a strategic investment that would bring value to the NHT assets, as Senator Lambert Brown, who is also a member of the Board of the NHT, would want everyone to believe.

Prior to the resignation from the board of directors of Senator Cavan Gayle, Helene Davis-White, and most recently Brenda Cuthbert, the board, through its Chairman, was insisting that it did nothing wrong and that the transaction will bring value for money. Somehow, it is hard to see how this acquisition can be regarded as the best use of the funds entrusted into the NHT by its diverse contributors. At a time when the Government of Jamaica is facing severe fiscal challenges to provide basic social services to the Jamaican citizen, and against the policy of divesting non-core and loss making assets, this acquisition by the NHT cannot be regarded as prudent. The cry in many quarters is for heads to roll.

Comments

Anonymous wrote on November 24, 2014, 8:29 am:
Jamaica a run like real patty shop