Thursday 13 August, 2020

Belnavis resigns as mayor, SAMC chairman, but will remain councillor

Michael Belnavis with the vehicle charging port after it was recently dismantled at the St Ann Municipal Corporation.

Michael Belnavis with the vehicle charging port after it was recently dismantled at the St Ann Municipal Corporation.

The Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Michael Belnavis officially tendered his resignation as St Ann’s Bay Mayor and Chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation (SAMC) on Wednesday.

While Belnavis has resigned with immediate effect from those positions, he has indicated that he will not be resigning as councillor of the Ocho Rios Division.

The resignation letter, addressed to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the SAMC, Rovel Morris, was also copied to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie.

The development follows a meeting with JLP councillors in the parish last Friday, at which the councillors took a decision to ask Belnavis to resign from his respective posts amid the recent controversies surrounding the SAMC.

It is widely expected that at the corporation's monthly meeting on Thursday, Councillor for the Bamboo Division in the SAMC, Sydney Stewart, will be sworn in as the new mayor of St Ann's Bay and chairman of the municipal corporation.  Stewart currently serves as the Deputy Chairman of the SAMC, and St Ann’s Bay’s Deputy Mayor.

Meanwhile, in his resignation letter dated July 8, Belnavis said he intends to continue being councillor for the Ocho Rios Division.

The controversial former mayor has been in the news for the past several weeks. He recently distanced himself from a near $47 million contract to sanitise various parts of the town of Ocho Rios as part of COVID-19 prevention efforts. The expenditure raised eyebrows in several quarters over the allocation and expenditure of the funds which were provided by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).

Belnavis was also forced to dismantle a charging port at the SAMC, which was established at public expense to power his private hybrid Porsche motorcar.

Additionally, a recent newspaper article alleged that the former mayor captured Government land on which he reportedly constructed a building, which has since been demolished.

The Integrity Commission is reportedly probing the allegations of impropriety surrounding the SAMC and, by extension, the former mayor.

Several calls for the resignation of Belnavis came from within the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and the Trevor Munroe-led National Integrity Action (NIA).

Then last Friday, McKenzie, in a brief statement, announced that the JLP councillors of the SAMC wanted Belnavis to step aside.

“The JLP councillors requested a meeting with me. The recent controversies surrounding the St Ann Municipal Corporation and specifically the issues involving the chairman were fully discussed at length. This meeting was attended by all 11 JLP councillors, including the mayor, and the unanimous conclusion was that it was in the best interest of the municipal corporation to have the mayor step aside while the matters (being) ventilated in the public domain are investigated,” McKenzie said.

“The councillors also strongly expressed the importance of ensuring that the municipal corporation adheres to modern principles and standards of good governance that are foundation stones of the Local Governance Act,” McKenzie added.

He, however, stressed that “It is important to note that the councillors did not in any way accuse the mayor of (any) impropriety, but strongly felt that the present atmosphere took attention away from the regulatory and development agenda that the municipal corporation should be focused on.”

The minister said the councillors are committed to accountability and transparency as best practices of local government.

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