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JM | Dec 2, 2020

‘Holness hypocrisy’ shining? JLP gov’t, battered by COVID, does exactly what it said it wouldn’t with NHT funds in 2015

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

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Andrew Holness, then Opposition Leader, speaking at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) #ProsperityLive conference in Portmore, St Catherine in late October 2015. (Photo: Facebook @AndrewHolnessJM)

Less than 24 hours after the announcement that the Jamaican Government would be tapping $57 billion from the National Housing Trust (NHT), Prime Minister Andrew Holness is today (December 2) being labelled a hypocrite by social media users.

It comes as no surprise that the Holness administration is facing backlash as the NHT cash grab is a staunch contradiction of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) stance when it was in opposition more than five years ago.

What’s more interesting is that the transaction is ‘technically already approved’.

The four-year drawdown of $11.4 billion annually from the NHT was greenlit by Parliament in 2017. The clause was approved to support tax reform and debt payments, and was set to expire at the end of this fiscal year on March 31, 2021.

‘What’s good for opposition not good for government’, it would seem

Holness, responding to the Outameni scandal in October 2015, wrote: “The JLP does not support the use of NHT funds for purposes other than those for which they were intended.”

“The NHT’s mandate is clear. Contributor’s money, held in trust at the NHT, is to be used for the promotion of housing and community development,” the then Opposition leader continued.

A statement by Holness on the NHT in the height of the Outameni Scandal that rocked Jamaica in 2015. (Photo: Facebook)

Let’s not misconstrue the outrage here…

After all, most well-thinking Jamaicans, and I’d like to include myself in this bunch, are very cognizant of the intended purpose of the NHT ‘withdrawal’.

Any measure to help cushion the economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has decimated the island’s economy and derailed our growth trajectory, is and should be welcomed.

No one could have predicted a pandemic, much less, in a country such as Jamaica, to plan for it.

NHT to the rescue, again and again…

Where the lines seemingly overlap and continue to do so, is when these bailouts hamper the effectiveness and purpose of the NHT.

“The JLP has always stood in the vanguard where stewardship of NHT funds [is] concerned,” Holness argued in his October 2015 statement.

“We are the ones who have always defended the NHT and protected the interests of contributors; not the least of which are those thousands of Jamaicans who have been making contributions to the NHT and are yet to access a benefit,” he added.

CALLING A SPADE: Among the highlights of the JLP’s bid for power, Holness campaigned to preserve the sanctity of the National Housing Trust (NHT) in 2015. Five years later, and now in a second term as prime minister his administration seeks to do, in 2020, exactly what it so vehemently opposed. (Photo: Facebook @AndrewHolnessJM)

And yet, here we are. No closer to equitable housing solutions for the country and its people, but successive governments can turn to the NHT like a personal piggy bank and break it when things get tough.

Might I add, Jamaica’s housing crisis is the doing of BOTH parties? This will not be a safe space for lobbing blame across political lines.

The truth is unglamorous, unapologetic and nonpartisan.

The NHT, somewhat ‘effective’ since 1976

History 101: The NHT was created in 1976 to provide affordable housing solutions for as many Jamaicans as possible. In its first year of operations, the NHT reported it received loan applications from 23,383 contributors. Of this number, 5,292 were selected, 193 of whom took up their benefits that year.

Within its mandate, the NHT was specifically tasked with addressing Jamaica’s informal housing crisis, which, in 2011, swelled to 20 per cent of the national population, according to Global Housing Policy Indicators (GHI).

A finished home in the NHT’s Sandhill Vista housing development programme in Hellshire, St. Catherine. (Photo: nht.gov.jm)

Arguably, the last attempt at regularising squatter settlements was in 2003, when a People’s National Party (PNP) administration launched the Inner-City Housing Project (ICHP).

The ICHP was a three-year project to improve the living conditions of people in selected inner-city communities. The PJ Patterson-led government earmarked $5 billion at the time for the re-housing of 3,000 households and the refurbishing of several other ‘run-down’ communities across the island.

The initial total of households increased to 5,000, with areas involved in the project including Hannah Town, Denham Town, Matthews Lane, Majestic Gardens, Tivoli Gardens, Parade Gardens, White Wing, Swallowfield, Trench Town, and Monaltrie.

A section of the Tivoli Gardens community in downtown Kingston. (Photo: OpenEdition Journals)

The ICHP fizzled after years of neglect before being once again revived by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in 2013. Holness, while hinting at a programme in 2019, has not confirmed the ICHP would return.

The reality of housing (or the lack thereof)

Let’s exclude the rest of Jamaica for a microsecond and momentarily look at the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA).

According to the 2011 GHI housing for humanity survey conducted in the city, there were 34,731 squatter households in Kingston alone. Nationally, Jamaica’s squatter population in 2011 was over half a million people.

Following the arithmetic to quantify how many people this would translate to, with an average of 3.6 persons per dwelling (again, in 2011), that works out to 125,031 Jamaicans living in Kingston’s squatter settlements.

Aerial view of a section of the Kingston Metropolitan Area. (Photo: Marinas.com)

And let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a modest estimation at best since the reality is much starker. That was when we had a population just under 2.7 million—the island tips much closer to three million today.

With its atrocious real estate market, Kingston’s informal community crisis will further worsen before it improves.

Each election cycle peddles the same promises of sustainable housing, better opportunities and equal access for all.

Can that be achieved if the agencies set up to do so are denied the freedom to act on their mandates?

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