Holness, JLP 'saddened' by Ruel Reid scandal
Prime Minister and Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness addressing Labourites at a party meeting on Sunday. (Photo: Andrew Holness Facebook)
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has expressed that he and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) are saddened by the arrest and charge of former Education Minister Ruel Reid and other persons connected to the governing party in a multi-million dollar corruption probe.
At the same time, Holness has blasted the People’s National Party (PNP), accusing it of hypocrisy in the fight against corruption. In particular, Holness pointed to efforts over several years by members of the Opposition to prevent the Trafigura matter from being aired in court.
And he warned the PNP against appearing to bring pressure to bear on the country’s anti-corruption agencies.
The prime minister was addressing the matter for the first time since Reid, his wife Sharen, daughter Sharrele, JLP Councillor for the Brown’s Town division in the St Ann Municipal Corporation, Kim Brown-Lawrence and President of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), Professor Fritz Pinnock, were picked up at their homes by detectives last Thursday, during separate, but coordinated pre-dawn raids spanning three parishes.
The arrests and subsequent charges that were laid, came at the end of a year-long probe into Reid, in particular his stewardship of the Education Ministry and some of its affiliated agencies, including the CMU, which has found itself at the centre of the scandal.
The prime minister, who was addressing JLP supporters at an Area Council One meeting at the Girl Guides’ headquarters in St Andrew on Sunday, spoke to the possibility of more arrests, but said the “chips must fall where they may.”
Turning his attention to the PNP, Holness said:
“I am not worried when I see people jumping up and frothing at the mouth.
“I am not worried about that because when the reasonable people of Jamaica come to analyse the facts they will say that up to now Trafigura has not been resolved and some of the very people who are opening up their mouths today, some of their names were called and they are doing everything possible (to block it) – and so all we can do is to put in place the process and let the chips fall where they may.”
With widespread speculation that Reid and his co-accused were only arrested after the Opposition threatened protests and demanded answers, Holness said:
“People will start to think, ‘oh, they only acted because the Opposition brought pressure to bear’, and others will think that their actions are politically biased, because they only acted because the Opposition brought pressure,” the prime minister stated.
He was clear that the government will not intervene in the matter.
“I want to assure you that the Government that you support and the concerns that you have raised, that we take them seriously, very seriously and we will do everything within our powers to ensure that wherever there is corruption, wherever there is misuse of power, misappropriation of public resources, that this administration will ensure that the mechanisms are in place to ferret it out and to bring them before the court,” Holness said.
“We have put in place the measures to ensure that the institutions to investigate and prosecute, that they are capable and empowered to do so,” he added.
The Trafigura matter referenced by Holness is now 13 years old and involves former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, then Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, former PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill, former General Secretary Colin Campbell and businessman Norton Hinds.
They have been fighting a ruling that they must answer questions in open court from Dutch investigators probing a $31 million donation to the PNP in 2006.
Dutch firm Trafigura Baheer made the donation to the PNP while the Jamaican Government had an oil-lifting agreement with the company but Dutch firms are prohibited from making donations to foreign governments. The PNP officials have constantly denied that the money, which the party said it returned, was an attempt by the company to secure future oil lifting agreements with the Jamaican Government.
Dutch investigators want Simpson Miller and the other PNP officials to answer questions in public about the donation. They are being represented by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The matter has been appealed all the way up to the UK-based Privy Council.