Legislators alarmed at development breaches ignored by State agencies

JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck Tuesday expressed alarm over the revelations coming out of the damning Integrity Commission (IC) report which uncovered breaches of development approvals and monitoring processes by State agencies.

The report concerns allegations of irregularities in the approval and post-permit monitoring processes in relation to the construction of a residential development located at 11 Charlemont Drive, Kingston 6 by developers, including suspended National Water Commission (NWC) President Mark Barnett.

The IC said the development was done contrary to permits issued by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the Building Act.

“Having read this report… to have an officer say that he inspected the property twice and on both occasions it was in compliance with the approval. It is frightening, absolutely frightening, because it was supposed to be 12 one-bedroom and you’re having six two-bedroom and six three-bedroom, and the officer can say he inspected it twice and confirmed that it was in compliance,” Chuck said at Tuesday’s meeting of the IC Oversight Committee.

“What is more, NEPA personnel pointed out to their superiors that things were amiss and nothing was done,” added Chuck.

The IC’s report, tabled in Parliament in early October, resulted in Barnett being sent on administrative leave. The report was referred to the IC Oversight Committee for deliberation.

However, following a discussion at their meeting on Tuesday, committee members agreed to recommend to Parliament that the report be referred to an appropriate committee as the examination of the report is beyond the remit of the oversight committee.

“So all of these [issues] should be examined more fulsomely at the infrastructure committee, [and] what is being done to ensure that there’s no duplication or repeat of the errors that were made in this development,” Chuck said.

Opposition committee member Julian Robinson stressed that, unfortunately, these are widespread breaches, noting that “they are the norm, not the exception”.

“There are court cases that private residents have brought and there have been judgments which have raised serious questions about, in particular, these two entities [KSAMC and NEPA] in relation to how building permits are handled. And there are citizens’ groups that have raised a number of issues around it,” he said.

Robinson said he was recommending that, in relation to this specific report, the two entities cited — the KSAMC and NEPA — be referred to the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, given the issues that were raised in this report.

“If we can’t adjudicate it here, I would say refer to another committee and have those entities be given an opportunity to answer questions in relation to the recommendations made by the Integrity Commission, what they have done since the report has been tabled, what steps they have taken to deal with the breaches that have been identified, and how they plan to go forward,” he said.

Chuck agreed, noting that what Robinson outlined is something which should have been done long ago.

“The opportunity is now here for the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee to look at the whole process of granting approval for development and whether, in fact, the enforcement mechanism is in place at NEPA and the municipal corporations,” he said.

In his interrogation of the agency representatives involved, IC director of investigations Kevon Stephenson said he had enquired of the KSAMC whether any inspections were conducted in relation to the development located at 11 Charlemont Drive, Kingston 6.

“Having regard to the foregoing, Mr David Clarke, senior building officer, Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, in his statement dated November 29, 2022, indicated that an inspection for the development was conducted at approximately 40 per cent completion of building works and a final inspection was conducted at approximately 90 per cent completion of building works,” he said.

Stephenson said Clarke further indicated in his statement that the building structure was compliant with the approved building plans issued by the KSAMC for the property, and that the number of rooms observed on the development was congruent with the number of rooms outlined in the approved building permit.

The report revealed that between October 2019 and October 2021, nine post-permit monitoring reports were generated by representatives of NEPA in relation to the development.

“By way of a report dated July 31, 2020, a recommendation was made for a warning letter to be issued to the developers on the basis that several deviations from the conditions of the permit were observed. Between July 2020 and January 2021, three additional reports containing similar recommendations were made regarding the issuance of a warning letter,” Stephenson said.

He further noted that no warning letters were issued by NEPA during the referenced period and that the only warning letter issued by NEPA in relation to breaches of the permit granted for the development located at 11 Charlemont Drive, Kingston 6 was generated on February 10, 2021, a full six months after the breaches were initially identified.

Further, in his findings, Stephenson concluded that Barnett and his wife, attorney-at-law Annette Francis Barnett, breached the building, planning, and environmental permits which were issued by the KSAMC and NEPA for the Charlemont development. He said his conclusion was premised on the fact that the referenced development consists of six two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units instead of 12 one-bedroom units.

Stephenson, in the report, made several recommendations to the KSAMC and NEPA in an effort to prevent a recurrence of the referred breaches.