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Sinckler defends minister’s action

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Minister of Housing and Lands Michael Lashley did not bypass the board of the National Housing Corporation (NHC) in the awarding of building contracts, says Minister of Social Care Chris Sinckler.Sinckler said yesterday that the NHC board and Lashley himself would very shortly address this allegation made last Saturday by former NHC chairman Marilyn Rice-Bowen, who was sacked on July 31.Speaking on Starcom Network’s Down to Brasstacks call-in programme, Sinckler said he was dealing with the issue in his capacity as chair of the Social Policy Committee of Cabinet under which the Ministry of Housing and Lands falls.Dismissing Rice-Bowen’s allegation as “clearly untrue”, Sinckler said Lashley had never acted in any “whimsical” way or “in his own interest”, but was executing policy as established by the Cabinet committee.Sinckler noted that part of the problem with the NHC housing programme was a lack of resources and a decision was taken by Cabinet to instruct NHC to utilise joint ventures.“We wanted to use private capital to assist the NHC to execute its programmes in the first instance and there were three phases. Phase 1 was to attract those who had resources to partner with Government in joint housing ventures,” he said.Sinckler explained that NHC as the “executing agency” was given the responsibility through the Infrastructure Committee of the Cabinet and with the oversight of the Social Policy Committee, to access the houses once they were finished.“[The NHC] board was consulted on these matters . . . these projects did go to the board . . . they did discuss them and as instructed by the committees of the Cabinet, the board produced papers which were taken to the committees and I chair one of these committees. “[They were] discussed not only with the technical staff and some board members of the NHC, but also with technical staff from the Ministry of Finance and other line ministries which would have been affected,” he said.He said that even though private capital was used at places like Coverley, the board was still consulted, even though that had not been the practice in the past with other administrations.Sinckler stressed that the law clearly gave the Minister of Housing the authority to instruct the board on how it should  proceed and he also had the backing of the sub-committees of Cabinet and Cabinet generally.Addressing the issue of small contractors, Sinckler said the Infrastructure Committee instructed NHC that in joint ventures, the larger contractors who were putting up the money should be encouraged to use small contractors.“That was a written instruction from the legal section of the NHC. Over the series of projects at Six Roads [St Philip], Coverley, French Village [St Peter], more than 50 small contractors were used. Minister Lashley spoke to this previously. . . and all of this is known by the board,” he said.Quizzed by moderator David Ellis as to whether the sub-committees he mentioned did not slow down the process of getting houses to people, Sinckler said they made the procedure “safe”. He made reference to the “pain” suffered by prospective homeowners under the previous administration with respect to the Hardwood housing initiative, Bulkeley Meadows and Coverley Stage 1.Sinckler explained that the committees dealt with policy and not “nitty-gritty” operational matters. (WG)