PM mum as watchdog demands Belnavis quit
Weeks after St Ann’s Bay Mayor Michael Belnavis became embroiled in controversy over his stewardship of municipal funds, climaxing last Thursday with a demolition related to building breaches, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has reserved comment until he has been fully briefed.
Holness was publicly addressing Belnavis’ roller-coaster ride of outrage for the first time at a Jamaica House press conference on Monday evening.
The prime minister said that he was always concerned about allegations of impropriety and corruption but awaited more information from Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie before arriving at a conclusion.
“My job is to brief myself properly, bring the people in who are at the centre of any accusation to get full knowledge, and once I am 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 in response to a question from The Gleaner.
Anti-corruption lobby National Integrity Action (NIA) has called for Belnavis to immediately resign following revelations of his role in a private company that captured government land and constructed a building in violation of the law.
The disclosure was made in a Sunday Gleaner report that showed how City Mall Management sought permission from the St Ann Municipal Corporation, which Belnavis leads, at least a month after works started.
Amid insistent enquiries from this newspaper, the unfinished structure was demolished last Thursday night, without explanation from the parish authorities or from Belnavis’ company.
In a statement on Monday, NIA said that if the mayor refuses to walk, the other 15 councillors in the parish should “put public interest above party” and expel the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor for misconduct.
“Good practice demands that Mayor Belnavis do the right thing and separate himself from the high office of mayor,” said Professor Trevor Munroe, the head of NIA, a chapter of Transparency International, the global anti-corruption watchdog.
“There must be one law for all, the big and the small,” he added, pointing to the 2013 Spaldings Market scandal in which the NIA called for the resignation of Richard Azan, a junior minister in the then Portia Simpson Miller administration, who admitted to authorising the construction of 10 shops in the market without permission from the Clarendon Parish Council.
Holness, then opposition leader, led calls for Azan to resign following the findings of the Office of the Contractor General, which recommended criminal charges. Azan resigned but was later reinstated after he was criminally cleared by Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a letter signed by his co-director, Michael Hill, City Mall asked the St Ann authorities for a ‘no objection’ to building a public wash station for sanitary purposes in light of COVID-19 on public lands that also host the One Love Park.
Hill confirmed with The Sunday Gleaner that no permission was sought to do the works before the letter was submitted.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, Howard Mitchell, said the newspaper’s exposé was “a matter of concern”.
“It would involve the inappropriate dealing with taxpayers’ property. We will be watching the developments very closely,” Mitchell told The Gleaner on Monday.