Friday 10 July, 2020

PNP calls for impeachment of St Ann's Bay Mayor, Michael Belnavis

Michael Belnavis

Michael Belnavis

The PNP has called for the impeachment of St Ann's Bay Mayor, Michael Belnavis after it was revealed the St Ann Municipal Corporation (SAMC) installed a charging port for his private Porsche car.

According to a press release from the People's National Party (PNP), an impeachment of Belnavis, who also serves as the SAMC chairman, is provided for under "Section 18 of the Local Governance Act of 2016, for gross misconduct in office and bringing the municipal corporation into disrepute."

This as the SAMC has also been the subject of public scrutiny over the money that it reportedly spent in a COVID-19 clean-up project in the resort town of Ocho Rios.

It was revealed at Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) last Wednesday that the charging facility that was installed at public expense to power up Belnavis' Porsche had since been removed as a matter of "ethics".

Providing further details, CEO of the SAMC, Rovel Morris, informed PAAC members that it cost the municipal authority over $80,000 to install the charging facility, but "all costs that were associated with the installation will be recovered".

Morris also rejected any suggestion that the municipal authority’s electricity bill had escalated due to the usage of the charging port by the mayor.

But PNP Opposition Spokesperson on Local Government, Natalie Neita has hit back saying "paid electricity bills for vehicle charging is a violation of public trust and gross abuse of the office of mayor."

According to her: "It is to be noted that this (the charging facility) is an addition to the SAMC providing an official mayoral car for his (Belnavis’) daily commute."

With the dismantling of the charging port, Neita suggested that the action was "proof of a cover-up, and does not remove the stain of abuse of Jamaican taxpayers’ money in general, and the people of St Ann in particular."

She added: “The dismantling cannot repair the breach of rules or repay expended council funds”.

Neita, who is the Member of Parliament for North Central St Catherine, argued that the public needs to be informed of the SAMC’s systems of accountability and procurement, as well as the oversight of the Ministry of Local Government, and further suggested that the agencies that were involved "failed to detect and prevent such an outrageous abuse, providing the mayor with a benefit where none existed."

The Opposition spokesperson called for the support of the Minister of Local Government, Desmond McKenzie, to begin impeachment proceedings against Mayor Belnavis to demonstrate that both the Government and Opposition are united in the fight against corruption, abuse and misappropriation of public funds whether at the national or local level.

Natalie Neita

“The behaviour of the mayor is disgraceful and disrespectful of the people of the parish of St Ann, whose local services remain in need of improvement while the mayor provides for himself, ignoring the canons of good governance and the provisions of financial and procurement regulations," Neita contended.

She said the issue should not be allowed to pass without any action which would serve as a deterrent in the future.

"Consequently, she (Neita) called on the Integrity Commission, led by its new Executive Director, Mr Greg Christie, to investigate this expenditure and report to the Parliament," the PNP release concluded. 

The SAMC has also been the subject of public scrutiny over the money that it reportedly spent in a COVID-19 clean-up project in the resort town of Ocho Rios.

On Wednesday, the PAAC membership in general suggested that the Integrity Commission or another Government agency with expertise on contract-related matters should be asked to examine the $46.7 million contract that was awarded to the St Andrew-based cleaning company, Rahim Cleaning and Trucking Limited, by the SAMC.

The money that was said to have been spent to clean and sanitise several locations in Ocho Rios under a COVID-19 clean-up project was described as being "quite inflated" by PAAC Chairman, Dr Wykeham McNeill.

The cost to sanitise and clean the Ocho Rios Pier, for example, was said to be $9 million. The work there involved sanitisation of handrails, gates, doors, gate handles and door handles.

Additionally, approximately $10 million was spent to clean and sanitise the Ocho Rios Market.

The million-dollar-contract irked the Opposition councillors of the SAMC, who last month threatened to ask the auditor general to probe the matter.

The Local Government Ministry's chief auditor is also to examine that issue, the PAAC members were told last week.

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