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MPs want update on housing programme for the poor

Jamaica Observer / CONCERNS have again been raised about the status of the housing component of the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme, which drew criticism from some m embers of Parliament last March, and prompted Food for the Poor (FFP) to defend the integrity of wooden units that are supposed to be built under a five-year joint agreement with Government. Members of the Infrastructure and Physical Development committee of Parliament had made scathing remarks about the quality of the structures in relation to the cost to Government, drawing what amounted to a reprimand from Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who rushed to reassure FFP of his Administration’s commitment to the programme.

The housing initiative came up for discussion again during a recent sitting of the committee at Gordon House, to review submissions for the Construction Industry Policy of Jamaica.

Committee chairman, Mikael Phillips was concerned that the housing component for the Government’s flagship programme had not seen any new construction of units for the financial year, which ends March 31.

The agreement with FFP to build 1,200 two-bedroom units ended in August of last year, but there has been no indication as to whether the programme is to continue. “I was expecting that the contract would have been renewed,” Phillips noted.

Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine North Eastern Leslie Campbell also questioned whether the charity organisation had fulfilled all its obligations under the previous contract.

Chief technical director in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Doreen Prendergast, gave the undertaking to submit a report on the status of the programme, explaining that since August, “we have been reconciling the accounts to ensure that everything that should’ve been done has been done. We have not been taking any new applications. We are awaiting the prime minister to say what it is that he will be doing regarding the housing component”. She noted that in the meantime, requests that are submitted to the HOPE Secretariat are still passed on to FFP for consideration

MP for St Thomas Eastern, Dr Fenton Ferguson — who was among those at the March 2017 sitting of the committee who questioned whether the Government was receiving value for money from FFP, in light of an anticipated US$800 increase which the organisation was requesting at the time — emphasised the urgent need to continue the programme. “We were given the assurance that the contract with FFP would have been continued. In the air (at the time) was that the Government had planned not to continue but we were given that commitment in Parliament,” he said.

Ferguson argued that given the recent long periods of rain which had badly affected eastern parishes, the housing needs of the poor were even greater now. “Even if we are not picking up for this financial year I would imagine that we would tie up the contract arrangements so that going into 2018/19 we would be back on track early in the financial year…it is the most vulnerable in our population that is going to be feeling the pressure. It is an area of very great concern,” he stated.

Chairman of FFP Jamaica, Andrew Mahfood in a Jamaica Observer interview, said the organisation wanted to continue its partnership with the Government under HOPE when the contract period ended. Under the five-year joint venture agreement, FFP was to build 1,200 two-bedroom wooden units per year for poor Jamaicans across the island. Mahfood had said that the programme was on track.

Parliament also requested from the HOPE Secretariat last March a detailed list of beneficiaries, pending applications, a breakdown of units constructed in each constituency, and disaggregated costs.

— Alphea Saunders

 

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