Jess to PM: Hands off the NHT
Clarendon politician laments inability of poor to afford houses while Trust funds are being diverted
People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker for Clarendon Central Zuleika Jess on Wednesday urged the Andrew Holness administration to stick closer to the National Housing Trust’s (NHT) original mandate, cautioning that the Opposition will not “sit by and let them mash up Michael Manley’s legacy”.
Founded by Manley, a former prime minister and PNP president, in 1976 to lend money at low interest rate to contributors to finance the purchase, repair or construction of homes, successive governments have tapped into the NHT for billion-dollar projects not related to housing over the years.
“I am here to tell the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) Government to take them hands off the NHT. I am here to tell Andrew Holness to look the other way when it comes to the National Housing Trust ... ,” Jess said to loud cheers as she addressed the PNP’s Frankfield Divisional Conference at the Frankfield Primary School.
A fired-up Jess stressed that she was issuing a warning as when it comes to protecting the rights of the poor, the PNP blood is gonna “boil”.
“I was so shocked, I was surprised when I heard the prime minister (PM) come up and say to the people of Jamaica that the National Housing Trust is not a charity. Mi seh mi waan bawl when the PM come out and a go tell poor people seh NHT a nuh welfare institution,” she said.
Making reference to a Gleaner story last weekend, Jess described Holness’ comments as “out of order”.
A 2016 NHT assessment done by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) on whether the state entity had achieved its mandate highlighted that between 1976 and 1993, the richest one per cent of contributors received 35 per cent of mortgages disbursed, while the poorest 60 per cent of contributors received 33 per cent of mortgages.
“Moreover, they show that while the average contributor earned less than the average income of the population – making them poorer than the average Jamaican – the average mortgage beneficiary earned more than the population average. The studies concluded that disbursement of NHT mortgages was skewed to higher-income earners,” the CAPRI report said.
Jess also took aim at the Government over a controversial 2019 Moon Palace deal, which attracted the attention of the Office of the Contractor General.
The beach sale was condemned as tantamount to a giveaway in a contractor general’s report authored by Dirk Harrison.
The Government denied impropriety; however, the investors eventually pulled their money, leaving then St Ann North Eastern Member of Parliament Shahine Robinson to chastise the PNP, saying that the failed deal was a devastating blow to her constituency.
“Dem give weh Moon Palace beach, and yet you have this PM ... a go turn ‘round and tell poor people seh NHT a nuh charity,” she ranted.
In a wide-ranging broadside, she also criticised the Government for not removing import duties for tablets and laptops as schools were forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is why the next People’s National Party Government, under Mark Golding, is going to ensure that little pickney can have access to education. He is going to remove the General Consumption Tax and customs duties from tablets and laptops so that poor people can have access to education,” she told the audience.