PM To Meet With Upset Civil Society Members Over NHT Acquisition Issues

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is today expected to face a group of upset civil society members at a general council meeting of the Partnership For Jamaica. 

In 2013, the Prime Minister signed the partnership agreement, committing to social dialogue around issues critical to the development of the nation. 

However, that accord with various civil, religious and private sector groups is being threatened as some members allege that the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Outameni property in Trelawny breached the agreement. 

Already, two groups have suspended their participation in the partnership. 

Yesterday, the environmental and women's groups, formally informed the Prime Minister that they were suspending their participation. 

Diana McCaulay, who represents the 11 environmental groups on the partnership, says the groups are demanding some action from the Government especially in light of the widespread concerns raised. 

In the lead up to today's meeting, the partnership's governance committee, set up to manage disputes, has met with the civil society members of the partnership. 

The outcomes of those meetings are expected to be presented to the Prime Minister today. 

Mrs Simpson Miller has dismissed calls to sack the NHT board and has accepted the explanation that the purchase was legal and within the NHT’s mandate. 

Outameni Fallout - Jamaica Observer

THE Government yesterday faced more fallout from its handling of the Outameni purchase when two influential sectors announced the suspension of their participation in the Partnership For Jamaica (PFJ) on the basis that the Administration has breached the agreement.

Ten environmental organisations and 13 groups representing women, in separate letters to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, hauled the Government over the coals for disregarding the views of civil society on the Outameni purchase by the National Housing Trust (NHT).

The groups are the latest to object to the purchase, which critics have said is outside the remit of the NHT.

Simpson Miller and her Cabinet have also been blasted for refusing to cashier the NHT board, the members of which, have insisted they did nothing illegal and that they acted in the best interest of the NHT's contributors.

Amid growing calls for the board to be dismissed, Simpson Miller appointed new members after three directors resigned at the height of the controversy.

The environmental groups said that, over the past 16 months, they have been profoundly disappointed by the lack of progress towards the transformation in public life which the PFJ explicitly states is necessary.

They said that the recent events concerning the Outameni transactions, as well as other matters, demonstrate that the commitments are not being adhered to by the Government.

The groups pointed out that the Government had committed itself to the key principles of transparency, accountability, integrity, genuine consultation, thoughtful people-centred action, including gender, youth and environmental awareness focused on long-term national goals rather than short-term political imperatives.

"We do not consider that these principles have been upheld," the environmentalists said. "The Outameni transactions display a deplorable lack of transparency and accountability, and we consider these transactions to be an inappropriate use of contributors' funds."

They also said that the Outameni issue was not the only concern that they have raised during their time on the PFJ.

"The others have been documented, presented at meetings and been the subject of formal notification of what we consider to be breaches of the PFJ agreement. These include the destruction of the riparian zones of the Cabarita River in Westmoreland and the Spring Garden/Black River in Clarendon, and the egregious lack of transparency that has attended and continues to attend the announcement of a large trans-shipment port to be built in the Portland Bight Protected Area," the environmental groups said.

The women's groups said that the breaches which have occurred since the signing of the PFJ agreement "go to the heart of, and profoundly contradict the commitment to transparency and accountability which was made by the Government".

They said that the circumstances related to the Outameni purchase "are the most recent and particularly grievous manifestation".

They pointed to environmental breaches by the Ministry of Agriculture, the flouting of established guidelines as in the actions of junior minister Richard Azan in the Spalding market matter, the controversy over the 380-megawatt project, the Outameni purchase and the Government's poor handling of the outbreak of the chikungunya virus.

"At the signing of the agreement, the women's sector stood with pride and a feeling that we were about to see a 'new day' in Jamaica," the groups said. "At that time, our distinct feeling was that this partnership would be the one to begin a process of transformation that would be marked as a defining moment in the history of our country and our people."

They said that, while they believe that the partnership represents the best opportunity "to really turn things around for Jamaica", they are concerned that "without clear, measurable and resolute change by the Government, our remaining at the table would be tantamount to supporting and endorsing a process which lacks sincerity and merely pays lip service to the agreement.