Tue | Sep 29, 2020

Gov’t on learning curve on corruption, says Holness

Published:Wednesday | November 27, 2019 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
A JLP supporter wearing a hockey mask rings a large bell as he walks towards the National Arena, venue for the 76th annual conference, on Sunday, November 24.

Having twice told the parliamentary Opposition not to seek to influence the police and anti-corruption agencies, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has admitted that more work will be required to strengthen the overall framework governing the bodies.

Holness, whose administration has been engulfed in several corruption scandals since taking office in 2016, has been hard-pressed by the Opposition to deal with government breaches.

The administration has rebuffed the latest alleged scandal at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), with the People’s National Party (PNP) claiming that the agency spent $1.6 billion on bush-clearing in St Thomas at higher-than-market rates.

But RADA has strongly denied the allegation and senior members of the Holness administration have poured cold water on the PNP’s charges. The PNP has since dialled back its claims, acknowledging that it was uncertain whether the money had actually been spent.

Holness argued that Jamaica’s legislative and institutional framework on anti-corruption is more advanced than the rest of the Caribbean’s, telling supporters and diplomats that the country was new to large-scale implementation of anti-corruption measures.

“We are also very new on the scale of dealing with anti-corruption issues, so there is a learning curve that we’re going through.

“What is important is that the Government supports the development of the institution so it can accelerate very quickly on that learning curve and provide the resources so that they can move very quickly on the learning curve, and that the Government does not intervene or interfere,” he stated.

The prime minister was speaking at the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) annual conference at the National Arena on Sunday. Holness is also leader of the JLP.

On the matter of the RADA allegations, chairman of the JLP, Robert Montague, rebuked Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, calling for him to sack Spokesman on Agriculture Victor Wright.

The PNP had alleged that it had obtained documents showing that RADA spent $1.6 billion in St Thomas on bushing.

“We have bushing scandal 2.0, which is of even more enormous proportions than the first scandal. What we have is another massive rip-off scheme undertaken by the agency of the Jamaica Labour Party,” alleged Phillips.

However, Montague pounced on the foul-up and told supporters that the opposition leader could not be trusted. He said that he was surprised by the utterance of Phillips because he had a PhD.

“Desperado got awake from his slumber –because you know him love sleep – and him declare when him wake up that him going to buss a scandal pon we. But somebody set up Desperado. Somebody thief a piece of paper up at RADA and the paper dem thief had a list of farm road up in St Thomas with the estimates to repair the roads and dem give it to Desperado.

“Desperado seh wi spend 1.6 billion pon bushing. If we did spend so much money pon bushing, no bush wouldn’t lef at St Thomas. No bush wouldn’t lef at Portland ... so all the goat weh the man lef a Portland, all dem deh goat deh woulda dead fi hungry because no bush wouldn’t lef,” Montague said, ribbing PNP caretaker for Portland Eastern, Damion Crawford, who referenced goatherding as part of his election failed campaign in summer.