A Golden Surprise!

A move to make the Golden Age Home in St Andrew an arm of the Local Government Ministry, based on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendation five years ago, has hit a major snag.

The problem is that the home is a private company built in 1985 with an independent board of directors which has, over the years, been perceived as a government entity based on the fact that it is heavily subsidised by the State.

“There is a long-standing misconception about the Golden Age Home and it has been so long-standing that it has become entrenched. It was not until this new board started a process to transfer the entire operation to a government ministry that we started to find out these things. The home is not a government entity. The Home is simply a private institution that receives full funding via donation from the Government to offer a service on behalf of the Government that the Government was not able to provide or better put, chose not to get involved in because they wanted it free of political interference,” Matthew Smith-Barrett, chair of the home’s Finance and Resource Mobilisation Committee, told the Jamaica Observer.

“What the home has been doing over its life is that, instead of recreating the wheel in terms of operations and governance, it adopted government best practices, government salary scales and government positions for its operations,” Smith-Barrett, who also sits on the Golden Age Home’s Governance Committee, explained further.

That “misconception”, he said, has caused a setback for the transition which had originally been set for completion last year.

“The International Monetary Fund, working along with the Transformation Implementation Unit, proposed that the home should become a division under the Ministry of Local Government. The first phase of that is, we were under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and we were transferred to receiving our finances through the Ministry of Local Government, so we are now transferred in terms of where we receive our money from in the Estimates of Expenditure,” Smith Barrett told the Observer.

“The next step is to now transfer our operations into full control of the department, but there the legal issues come into play,” he said, pointing out that when the Articles of Incorporation were examined, the committee found that the home was never a Government entity.

“So the transition can’t be smooth, it requires the winding up of the operations of the Home through the relevant legal winding up procedures, going through the Companies Office and having the cessation. With that comes financial obligations that we would have to find ways to cover,” he disclosed.

“It was when we were going through the documentation trying to effect the transfer that we realised the staff here are not public sector employees. These are private individuals. The property is not owned by the Government, the property is owned by the home, so these transitions we were planning to do could not be done so simply. In terms of the closing out of the operations and the reopening, things like redundancies and all of that have to be taken into consideration and then who is going to pay for that?” Smith-Barrett said.

He said the Ministry of Local Government and the board of the Home are now working “assiduously” to complete the process.

“We would have had set deadlines that would not have been met because as we started to go through the documentation we realised that we were very ambitious. The original deadline was February 2019. I think we have now removed a set deadline and are now working to get it done, but COVID has derailed a lot of what we were planning to do. We had several meetings to discuss how we were going to go about the financing, all of that has to be documented,” said Smith-Barrett.

He described the move to make a once private entity public as novel.

“It is a very complex legal process and it becomes more complex when what we thought was readily government was now private sector becoming government.

“It is unique. The Public Enterprise Division of the Ministry of Finance has the Golden Age Home listed as a public body, because over all these years the information has been passed down and everybody came to believe that because we were giving you this money you must be a government entity. Nobody realised until now that this has been a government donation all this time to this private company,” Smith Barrett noted.

The Golden Age Home, located in Vineyard Town, St Andrew, is the residence of over 400 senior citizens, aged 60 years and older who are served by a staff of more than 150.

The facility is financed by the Government’s subvention, residents’ contributions, donations and other miscellaneous income. It is mandated to provide residential care, accommodation, meals, and other welfare services for destitute people in Kingston and St Andrew.