Friday 14 August, 2020

McKenzie lauds Belnavis' leadership; urges ‘no comment’ on SAMC probe

Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie, has appealed to councillors and officials at the St Ann Municipal Corporation (SAMC) to resist the temptation of publicly commenting on the ongoing probe at the entity.

At the same time, McKenzie lauded the embattled former SAMC chairman and former St Ann's Bay Mayor, Michael Belnavis, for some aspects of his leadership that made a difference to the corporation.

The Integrity Commission is reportedly probing allegations of impropriety surrounding the SAMC and, by extension, the former mayor, who resigned from that position as well as SAMC chairman on Wednesday.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of the SAMC on Thursday, the minister posited that any commentary on the issues could affect the ongoing investigations there.

McKenzie elaborated that "There is no denying that the municipality has been hurt, fractured badly by some of what has been out there in the public domain. And I want to urge you all to resist the temptation in continuing any public dialogue on these issues because you all know that there are investigations taking place, and we should allow those conclusions to come without making any judgment."

With Belnavis' resignation, Sydney Stewart, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) councillor for the Bamboo Division, was sworn in as the new St Ann’s Bay Mayor and Chairman of the SAMC at Thursday's meeting.

Another JLP Councillor, Dalas Dickenson of the St Ann's Bay Division of the SAMC, was sworn in as deputy mayor and Deputy Chairman of the SAMC, both roles which were occupied by Stewart prior to his elevations.

While noting that the new administration of the SAMC will have to ensure transparency and accountability there, McKenzie has assured that the ministry will be providing support to the new leaders and, by extension, the municipal authority.

"The Administration has to send a clear signal as to the direction that it is going. Transparency and accountability in all municipal corporations in this country have to be the order of the day," McKenzie said, adding that "The Ministry of Local Government will be working over the next couple of weeks to ensure that this period of transition is done, and we give the support that is required to St Ann (Municipal Corporation)."

Despite the issues surrounding Belnavis' leadership of the SAMC, McKenzie thanked him for the work he did throughout his tenure, which spanned over three years.

"There are aspects of his (Belnavis') leadership that has made a difference to the municipality and is not everything that we do is always bad. Nobody sets out to do anything that is bad, and where you need to make commendations, I think we should do so," he said.

Belnavis was noticeably absent from the SAMC monthly meeting, despite indicating in his resignation letter, dated July 8, that he intended to continue being councillor for the Ocho Rios Division.

His resignation followed a meeting with JLP councillors in the parish last Friday, at which the councillors took a decision to ask him to resign from his respective posts amid the recent allegations of corruption surrounding the SAMC.

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.

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