Friday 14 August, 2020

Mayor Belnavis asked to resign by fellow JLP councillors

Michael Belnavis

Michael Belnavis

The embattled Mayor of St Ann’s Bay, the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Michael Belnavis is being forced out by his fellow JLP councillors.

The development follows a meeting of JLP councillors on Friday at which a decision was taken to ask Belnavis, who is also the chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation (SAMC) to resign his post.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie made the announcement in a brief statement Friday afternoon.

“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 eleven 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 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.

The controversial 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 has raised eyebrows in several quarters even though the funds were reportedly provided by the Tourism Enhancement Fund.

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Belnavis was also forced to dismantle a charging port at the SAMC for his private Porsche motorcar and a recent newspaper article alleged that the mayor captured government land on which he illegally constructed a building. The building has since been demolished.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness was asked last week whether he had been briefed about the happenings with the mayor and whether he was concerned.

“I am always concerned about any allegations of impropriety and corruption. My job is to brief myself properly, bring the people in who are the centre of any accusation to get full knowledge and then once I’m satisfied that there is something there that requires action then you would know by my past track record that I do act on these matters,” Holness said.

And in a statement last week, the Trevor Munroe-led National Integrity Action (NIA) said Belnavis should immediately resign. His failure to do so should see him booted by the other 15 councillors the NIA urged as it appealed for them to “put public interest above party” and, in accordance with section 44 of the Municipal Corporation Act “expel Balvanis …for misconduct tending to bring the corporation into disrepute”.

According to Munroe, “good practice demands that mayor Belnavis do the right thing and separate himself from the high office of mayor”. He said this should be done before the conclusion of a probe of the SAMC by the Integrity Commission.

The Commission recently raided the offices of the SAMC and seized documents in what is now an ongoing probe.

Munroe insisted that “There must be one law for all, the big and the small”.

Meanwhile, McKenzie stressed that “It is important to note that the councillors did not in any way accuse the mayor of 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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