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Andrew's house continues to fuel unease

  • Written by Jamaicaobserver.com
  • Published in local news
The multimillion dollar perimeter wall surrounding Andrew Holness's house under construction in Beverley Hills, St. Andrew The multimillion dollar perimeter wall surrounding Andrew Holness's house under construction in Beverley Hills, St. Andrew
OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness's defence of the house that he and his wife Juliet are building in Beverly Hills, St Andrew has created more unease inside the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and appears to have placed the political organisation on a collision course with some of its more affluent donors.

According to JLP insiders, questions about Holness's judgement for building the massive house at this time have re-emerged in the party, which is bracing itself for the property being used by the governing People's National Party (PNP) in the campaign for general elections due for 2016, but widely expected later this year.

"The party knows that it will be one of the biggest advertising tools against us in the next election," one JLP insider told the Jamaica Observer.

"It has been a major concern for the party over the last two years. It hasn't been dealt with openly until last week in the Sunday Observer," added the insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

From as far back as mid-2014 PNP insiders had admitted to the Sunday Observer that Holness's house would be considered fair game in their election campaign.

Last week, Holness, in response to critics on both sides of the divide, pointed out that he and his wife -- who is a real estate developer -- have been building the house for the past three years and that they have been frugal in their spending.

"About seven years ago I purchased an undeveloped piece of land which I originally intended to hold and develop sometime in the future. However, considering my family needs, my age, and the likely greater future demands on my time and attention, I decided that now was the right time to build," Holness said in a statement to the Sunday Observer.

"We started construction in September 2012. The terrain was steep and rocky, so we spent the first six months hammering rocks to create useable space for building and amenities. We ended up having so much stones that it made practical sense to use them to build all our walls rather than using conventional block and steel. And using the stones saved us the cost of trucking them away," Holness explained.

He said that he and his wife project-manage the construction themselves, which allows them to go at their own pace and within their budget. The result is that the work has been going longer than they expected, but given the calls on their time, they don't make it a priority or their current focus.

"I know it has attracted much attention, and rightly so. Public figures must get used to the fact that the public will be interested in what we do, how we live, where we get our money, and to whom we are obligated. Though I am an intensely private person by nature, I have learned to live in the public's attention," Holness said.

"It is also particularly important that there is transparency to assure the public and donors that politicians are not enriching themselves off the public purse or peddling influence. I have always taken a tough stance against corruption and influence peddling, and have kept far from even the suggestion of any such thing. This is why I am a strong supporter of regulating political party registration and financing," the opposition leader added.

"We are well aware that, aside from the legitimate questions of the public, much of the talk is politically motivated. From my certain knowledge there are other public officials, including ministers of Government, mayors and others who are also building. Like me, they are required to make yearly declarations to the Integrity Commission," Holness said.

He said that the public's comments are not always informed by facts, and in the gap between the facts and what detractors try to manipulate is a lot of room for mischief.

"We have heard some ridiculous figures being bandied about cost. If I had that magnitude of funds I would be finished building long ago," he said. "Juliet and I often laugh to ourselves when we hear the things people speculate. If they only knew the hard work we put in."

But after last Sunday's publication, word from within the JLP was that some of the party's donors have said that they need details of the source of funding for the house before assisting the party.

While Holness did not state the costs associated with the building, construction experts have given the Sunday Observer conservative estimates of $250 million, without the furnishings.

One contractor estimated the cost of the cut-stone perimeter wall at "easily at least $20 million", while another valued it at approximately $50 million, which, he said, would include the cost of labour.

Last week, Holness said that while he celebrated the success and achievement of hard-working people, he was disappointed that there are those who make success and achievement a bad thing. "It is a way of thinking that makes us poorer," he argued.

"I would want every hardworking Jamaican to be successful. I preach shared prosperity, not shared poverty. So for every Jamaican who is building your dream, keep on building and ignore the haters," he said.

This article was originally bublished by the Jamaica Observer on line and is reprinted by News Jamaica. The original article can be read here