The Government is again trying to sell the controversial Orange Grove property in Trelawny.
The National Housing Trust (NHT) has already gone to market twice up to 2017, trying to sell or lease the property which was at the centre of the “Outameni” bruhaha in 2013.
Former minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Dr Horace Chang had indicated then that the Administration may have to fit the property into its housing programme.
“Nothing has happened yet, no takers yet, (and) I’m not aware of a plan B yet. I’m certain if we don’t get sale for it we will have to see how we can fit it into the housing programme,” Dr Chang said in March 2017.
A former board of the NHT approved the 9.1-acre property for purchase in 2012 under circumstances which became the subject of harsh scrutiny by the then Jamaica Labour Party parliamentary opposition. It also attracted public outcry.
In a newspaper advertisement on October 23, the NHT invited interested proposals for the purchase or lease of the commercial property, which is located three miles south-east of Falmouth town centre, the Trelawny capital.
The advertisement stated that the property “is of historic interest”, with a 246 Georgian great house and a sugar mill, and has sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea. It outlined facilities such as an entertainment area, gate houses, gazebos, and other facilities.
The property, which has not been able to attract any takers despite having gone to market twice before this, “does not appear to facilitate the NHT’s mandate for affordable housing solutions and is more suited for recreational/heritage-type facility”, the NHT’s own Construction and Development Unit had said, based on a 2013 site assessment of the property.
The Government bought the loss-making property from Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL) for $180 million in 2012, a transaction which came to light in in 2013 and resulted in the resignation of some board members of the NHT, while others defended the purchase.
In 2015 the auditor general reported to Parliament that the purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property had been a buyout of a bad debt owed to a local merchant bank.
According to the report, OVHL had, in November 2012, informed NHT that it could acquire the Orange Grove property, with the great house and the built-attraction, and physical structure for a fraction of the estimated value of $311.16 million, stating in a letter that the property is indebted to a merchant bank and that the entity was giving the NHT full authority to negotiate a buy-out of the bank loan covering the property.
The then NHT board approved the purchase of the debt in exchange for the assets and agreed that the Trust would settle the outstanding debt due to the merchant bank on behalf of OVHL in exchange for the company’s assets. That debt was estimated at $180 million.
The NHT had incurred costs of $28 million up to October 2014 in insurance, utility, maintenance, salaries, and security, and had been spending close to $1 million per month to maintain the property.
LBC News analysis.
The government of Jamaica by years end will pay well over 100 Million dollars in Insurance and upkeep fees on that White Outameni White Elephant in Trelawny.
From it was bought by the PNP led NHT board in 2012, by October 2014 it had racked up cost of 28 Million dollars, making it a staggering 14 Million a year, at least waste of tax payers money.
Since October 2012 to October 2019, if all the cost remained the same, the government would have spent in total nearly 100 million dollars on the Entity.
That 100 million dollars that has been wasted could have provided more money to PATH beneficiaries, it could have rehabilitated some roads, or buy some beds for our hospitals.