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Hutchinson hangs tough Defiant MP insists there was no wrongdoing in Holland Estate deal involving his female partner

Hill Prados
Hutchinson hangs tough Defiant MP insists there was no wrongdoing in Holland Estate deal involving his female partner

Under-pressure minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries William “JC” Hutchinson has scoffed at calls for his resignation despite whispers in government circles that he has found himself in hot water with his boss, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, over the Holland Estate controversy. Government sources yesterday told the Jamaica Observer that Hutchinson has irked Holness after it emerged that he had written Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings instructing it to move speedily to give control of the 2,400-acre property to a company in which his child’s mother, Lola Marshall-Williams, was a director.

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Hutchinson has denied giving any such instructions, but based on correspondence seen by the Jamaica Observer it appears executives of SCJ Holdings were of the impression that they had been given a directive by a minister in their parent ministry.

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Among the correspondence is a letter from Terry-Joy Golaub, legal officer for SCJ Holdings, to the company in which Hutchinson‘s partner was a director.

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“At the request of Minister William JC Hutchinson, you have our full consent to immediate possession of the said premises to commence your operations,” said Golaub in her letter, even as she noted that the draft lease agreement had not yet been prepared

But yesterday, speaking on Nationwide News Network, Hutchinson rejected charges of nepotism and cronyism, and made it clear that he would not be resigning from his Cabinet post

“I don’t see why that should be. What is the conflict of interest?” declared Hutchinson who admitted that he has had discussions on the matter with the prime minister

Hutchinson said he would not state the nature of the discussions with Holness and up to press time there was no word from the Office of the Prime Minister on the matter which has sparked the latest controversy engulfing the Administration

In a statement on Tuesday, Hutchinson indicated that in March 2019 the previous corporate owners of Holland Sugar Estate, the Campari Group, indicated that it would be relinquishing ownership of the 2,400 acres of land at the Holland property on July 1, 2019

“One of the main reasons stated for giving up the land was the continuous invasion of the property by approximately 400 head of cattle destroying vast acres of their cane annually. The property is located in North West St Elizabeth where I am the Member of Parliament [MP],” said Hutchinson

He argued that farmers, who were informally cultivating sections of the property for a number of years, indicated to him, as their MP, that they wanted additional land to cultivate and hoped that small farmers would be allowed to occupy the entire property

“In addition, many persons within and outside of the constituency indicated an interest in getting the land to cultivate. I encouraged the farmers to form an appropriate vehicle that could engage SCJ Holdings, or the Agro-Investment Corporation, depending on which entity would be put ultimately in charge of the land

“Subsequently, a group of residents indicated that they had formed a group called the Holland Estate Management Company [now Holland Producers Limited]. The Holland Estate Management Company, an unregistered group which consists of a nine-member management team, indicated that they had interviewed 245 persons who expressed their interest in the property in an attempt to coordinate and regularise the occupation of the land,” Hutchinson said

“The group asked me, as their Member of Parliament, to contact the management of SCJ Holdings. In April 2019, I wrote to Mr [Joseph] Shoucair of the SCJ Holdings introducing the Holland Estate Management Company and asking for his attention and guidance on the matter,” claimed Hutchinson

But in his letter to Shoucair, seen by the Observer , Hutchinson argued that Holland Estate Management Company was prepared to undertake the management of the property for one year starting June 1, 2019 to assess the viability of the project and after that enter into an extended lease

Hutchinson further argued that it was “important” for Holland Estate Management Company to start occupying the property “immediately” and would be submitting a formal application in the future

He said members of Holland Producers were interviewed by Shoucair and the company was approved to manage the Holland Property for one year, in the first instance, to explore its viability

“It is important to note that Holland Producers Limited only provides oversight management for the property on behalf of the farmers. Pro bono services are offered by the directors to ensure the orderly development of the project. None of the directors receive any benefit from the company. Farmers sell their produce directly to buyers,” declared Hutchinson

He added that his partner, Marshal Williams, has indicated that she has resigned from Holland Producers Limited because she feels that this project is too important to be embroiled in any controversy

“Let me state categorically that I have in no way benefited from the lands at Holland, either directly or indirectly. It was never my intention to derive any benefit from the Holland lands, nor do I have an interest in Holland Producers Limited,” said Hutchinson

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