Friday 7 August, 2020

Questions raised over leasing of sugar lands to minister's 'lover'

JC Hutchinson

JC Hutchinson

Another scandal appears to be looming over the government, with a minister, his alleged lover and at least 1,400 acres of state-owned lands at the centre of the latest episode.

Following the circulation of the salacious details on social media on the weekend, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on Monday released a statement calling for the Integrity Commission to immediately investigate what it describes as “the massive land grab of 1,400 acres of the Holland sugar lands through a non-transparent deal between the Ministry of Agriculture and connected parties…”

The statement, from the shadow minister for agriculture and rural development, Victor Wright, said the arrangement also involves a company called Holland Producers Limited.

Wright noted that news reports indicate that the land allocation was done through an unsolicited proposal with no tender or financial proposal from Holland Producers.

He said the reports also indicate that a director of Holland Producers is also the “paramour and live-in partner of the minister”.

According to Wright, this could not be ignored because the land is owned by the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ), which is an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. Wright said this falls directly under the purview of the portfolio Minister JC Hutchinson.

“What is worse is that the Holland Producers director is also Chairman of the RADA St Elizabeth board of directors and a member of the RADA national board and would, therefore, be aware of insider information on the land availability and the Ministry’s plans. Consequently, the land arrangement puts Holland Producers at a disproportionate advantage over other interests, and this cannot be allowed to stand,” Wright stated.

He said the process of arriving at the lease arrangement is exceptionally troubling as it closely resembles the recent Holywell land controversy, where protected lands were to be leased to the then portfolio Minister of Land, Daryl Vaz. That deal was scrapped following public outcry because of the protected nature of the Holywell lands.

Wright said the Holland land lease arrangement should be immediately halted and the Integrity Commission asked to conduct a thorough examination of the contractual agreement. This, as it has been executed without due process and disclosure of the financial arrangements, including the value placed on the land in the lease, he said.

The shadow spokesman said the PNP was in possession of more information which indicates that current employees of RADA are also directors of Holland Producers. He said the government farm store located on the Holland property is also being managed by persons connected to the minister.

“Even more disturbing is a claim by SCJ Chairman, Joseph Shoucair that Holland Producers Limited was recommended for the lease by connected parties in the Ministry of Agriculture,” Wright said in his statement.

He is adamant that the Integrity Commission is “urgently needed to ensure that the people of Jamaica are not once more cheated by a corruption-enabling mechanism, established to exploit the continued lack of oversight and looseness within the Andrew Holness-led administration”.

This latest development adds to a growing list of scandals that continue to hobble the Holness administration. The list includes the $600 million de-bushing scandal, NeSOL, Petrojam and the Caribbean Maritime University/Ministry of Education scandals.

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