PRIME Minister Andrew Holness effectively slapped Members of Parliament (MP) from both his Jamaica Labour Party and the Opposition People’s National Party who last week tore into Food For the Poor (FFP) for what they claimed were poor quality houses being built for less fortunate Jamaicans under a partnership with the Government.
Food For the Poor, which came out in strong defence of the cost and quality of the houses it has been building for decades following the attack by MPs at a parliamentary committee meeting last Wednesday, took its concern to the highest level of Government when it sought a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the scathing remarks against the country’s largest charity organisation.
In a Jamaica House release yesterday following a meeting with Food For the Poor Jamaica Chairman Andrew Mahfood and his deputy Chris Bicknell, Holness said it was “unfortunate” that some Government MPs may have addressed any issue with FFP in a manner that “seemed confrontational”.
He said that was not the position of his Administration, and noted the long partnership between successive administrations and the charity.
The prime minister, meanwhile, has instructed the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation to begin negotiations with FFP for a new contract, ahead of the August expiry date of the existing five-year joint venture agreement. Under the agreement, FFP is to build 1,200 two-bedroom wooden houses per year, which is given free of cost to the poor across the island.
Concerns and criticisms from the MPs at a meeting of the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee of Parliament with principals of the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme last Wednesday ranged from the cost per unit to the quality of the structures.
In addition, one MP alleged that the houses were termite-infested and that the cost to the Government was too much, while some some suggesting that the houses could be built for less.
FFP and the Government each bear half of the US$6,400 per unit.
There were also concerns by MPs, including State Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Everald Warmington, that parliamentary representatives were unaware of the people in the constituencies who were benefiting from the housing programme. Warmington said in his constituency of St Catherine South Western he had found that some of the beneficiaries listed did not reside there.
He also explicitly stated that FFP had been directed by the prime minister to cease the construction of houses when the previous Government’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme was replaced by HOPE last September. Mahfood, in a Jamaica Observer interview last week, denied that FFP had been so instructed. Holness did not address that matter in the release issued yesterday by Jamaica House.
Holness, apparently trying to prevent a fallout between his Administration and FFP, said: “Government values the partnership with Food For the Poor. This partnership has my full support as it affords needy Jamaicans a home with modern amenities which is delivered well below market rate at no cost to the recipient.”
“Jamaica is grateful to Food For the Poor, which has mobilised international help in delivering its services in Jamaica…. Food For the Poor has an excellent track record of delivering houses well below market rate,” added Holness.
Meanwhile, Mahfood reiterated his organisation’s commitment to building houses for the poor and destitute. “The quality of work done on our housing projects is of a high standard. FFP is committed to being of service to the needy in Jamaica and we continue to collaborate with the Government,” Mahfood said.