Fri | Apr 12, 2024

Disciplinary charge hangs over NEPA inspector in Barnetts’ development saga

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2024 | 12:06 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter

The controversial Charlemont Drive, St Andrew, apartment complex constructed by Mark Barnett, president of the state-owned National Water Commission, his wife Annette, and developer Phillip Smith.
The controversial Charlemont Drive, St Andrew, apartment complex constructed by Mark Barnett, president of the state-owned National Water Commission, his wife Annette, and developer Phillip Smith.
Lambert Brown, industrial relations consultant
Lambert Brown, industrial relations consultant
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An internal disciplinary charge now hangs over the head of the enforcement inspector who first flagged breaches at a controversial housing development undertaken by a senior public officer and his wife.

Rhyan Henry, the inspector employed to the state regulatory authority, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), has been charged with “gross misconduct” for “inefficient work performance”, his industrial relations representative Senator Lambert Brown disclosed on Friday.

It is alleged that Henry “failed to carry out established enforcement procedures” at the apartment complex constructed by Mark Barnett, president of the state-owned National Water Commission (NWC); his wife Annette; and developer Phillip Smith at 11 Charlemont Drive in St Andrew.

The Barnetts never faced criminal prosecution for breaches uncovered at the complex because authorities waited too long to file charges against them.

NEPA has indicated that dismissal is not among the punishments being contemplated in Henry’s case, Brown noted.

The charge is the result of a “disciplinary investigation” conducted by NEPA.

The findings of the investigation and details of the allegations were handed to Henry on Friday when he returned to work after 37 days on interdiction, Brown revealed during a Sunday Gleaner interview.

There is no indication whether the investigation recommended disciplinary action against any other employee, as calls on Friday to NEPA’s chief executive officer Peter Knight went unanswered.

TEN DAYS TO ENTER A PLEA

Brown, a long-time trade union leader, said the enforcement inspector has been given 10 days to enter a plea and signalled that the regulatory body will have a fight on its hands.

“My advice to him is that he is to plead not guilty and request that an inquiry be conducted,” he said, making reference to Henry.

“I will vigorously defend his rights in that matter when it comes up.”

The decision by NEPA to lay a charge against Henry comes more than three years after he first flagged major breaches at the apartment complex and reported them to higher-ups at the environmental regulatory body, according to the findings of an investigation conducted by the Integrity Commission (IC).

The IC is Jamaica’s main anti-corruption body.

On December 17, 2020, during a seventh visit to the construction site, Henry detected that the layout had deviated from the drawings that were approved, received, and date-stamped by NEPA on July 3, 2019.

In a scathing 90-page report made public last October, the IC noted that the apartment complex, now listed as completed, has six two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units, “in breach of the permits issued”.

The building, planning and environmental permits issued to the Barnetts on August 13, 2019 were for the construction of two three-storey blocks consisting of 12 one-bedroom units, the IC report revealed.

The breaches observed by Henry were communicated to the Barnetts in a warning letter written by Carlene Martin, acting manager of NEPA’s enforcement division.

Nearly nine months later, Morjorn Wallock, director of NEPA’s legal and enforcement division, wrote to the Barnetts, requesting that they submit applications to the relevant authorities seeking an amendment “consequent on the project’s departure from what was approved”.

The Barnetts did not comply, despite an undertaking from Annette Barnett that they would, according to the IC report.

‘HAPPY’ TO BE

BACK ON THE JOB

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a legal opinion made public in January, indicated that the allegations against the NWC boss and his wife, an attorney, support the filing of criminal charges against them, but said the 12-month window for doing so had already elapsed.

Following that decision, NEPA wrote to Henry indicating that he was being placed on interdiction with a 20 per cent salary cut to facilitate a “disciplinary investigation” into “allegation of gross misconduct”, The Sunday Gleaner first reported, citing the letter signed by director of human resource management and development, Karlene Hamilton-Reid.

But the regulatory body quickly backtracked amid wide public outrage and after Brown raised objections that the actions were unlawful.

Public commentators have questioned whether the enforcement inspector was being made the sacrificial lamb for NEPA’s failure to prosecute the Barnetts within the 12-month time frame stipulated in its legislation.

Brown said he is concerned that the investigation focused on the enforcement inspector and “not everybody who may have played a role in this issue”.

“He is returning to an environment where there are people who, in one way or another, could be impacted by a full investigation where the truth … is revealed,” he told The Sunday Gleaner, while noting that Henry is “happy” to be back on the job.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com