PNP, Victor Wright blast Holness as political squabble heats up

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

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The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and its Trelawny Northern Member of Parliament (MP) Victor Wright yesterday blasted Prime Minister Andrew Holness for comments he made Sunday about a land deal involving Wright, and accused the head of Government of creating mischief and outright lying to the country.

The heavy salvo from the Opposition was a rapid response to Holness's accusations made at a Jamaica Labour Party Area Council One meeting and represents an intensification of the war of words between both political parties over allegations of corruption and cronyism that have stained the Government in recent months.

“I think what the prime minister did was outrageous and disingenuous and an outright lie,” Wright told the Jamaica Observer yesterday afternoon. “He's just trying to get back from what transpired last week in his own Cabinet. He is trying to say others are wrong to protect his Cabinet ministers. It just won't work.”

The PNP was equally caustic, stating that Holness's “outburst” on Sunday “shows the extent to which he will go to create a false equivalency as a smokescreen to cover his ministers who have been caught several times in wrongdoing, corruption, and breaches of the Government's land divestment policy”.

In his address to JLP delegates on Sunday, Holness — apparently still smarting from criticisms of his handling of a land controversy involving Government legislator JC Hutchinson — said there were Opposition MPs who are occupying government land without paying rent.

Using the analogy of a pot and a steaming kettle to admit that both sides are haunted by unethical behaviour, the prime minister said: “We have come across many people in the pot who have been jumping up and shouting and criticising our steaming kettle, and there are persons there who are presently occupying government land without paying rent or any form of remedies, who are doing business there, who are not paying any light bill, and who have been asked to do so but haven't done so.

“They continue in Parliament and they are occupying the lands. They have no documentation. They do business there. They are using the Government's electricity… So we are going through the land and we are seeing many of them from that pot.”

“So we will, like them, just drip drip, drip drip,” he said, suggesting that the ruling party will be slowly releasing damaging information on the PNP. “Because we have a little tank and they have a reservoir.”

Holness was speaking two days after he stripped Hutchinson of his ministerial position in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries and reassigned him to a desk in the Office of the Prime Minister.

That was the second time in three weeks that the prime minister was forced to rearrange his Cabinet amidst a series of governance controversies dogging the Administration.

The prime minister's move came after news emerged that Hutchinson had written Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings instructing it to move speedily to give control of the 2,400-acre Holland Estate to a company in which his child's mother, Lola Marshall-Williams, was a director.

Hutchinson has denied giving any such instructions; however, based on correspondence seen by the Observer, it appears executives of SCJ Holdings were of the impression that they had been given a directive by a minister in their parent ministry.

But the PNP slammed Holness's decision to reassign Hutchinson, saying that shifting around ministers guilty of wrongdoing was unacceptable.

Yesterday, the Opposition said Holness's reference to a PNP member of parliament being involved in land capture, electricity theft, and illegal use of government assets was “untrue, defamatory and ought to be withdrawn immediately with an apology”.

The party said it had done extensive consultations with its members of the House of Representatives following the prime minister's accusation.

“Mr Victor Wright, the member of parliament for North Trelawny is the only PNP MP who currently occupies Government-owned land. While he was operations manager of the Frome Sugar Factory in July 2011, five years before he became a member of parliament, he applied for and was selected to enter into a lease arrangement with SCJ Holdings for a parcel of land, known as Fontabelle Estate in the parish of Westmoreland,” the PNP said in a news release.

The party said the original lease, which was for one year with an option to purchase, had expired. However, in September 2011, Wright exercised his option to purchase, and arrangements are in place to conclude the transaction.

“The SCJ currently owes him money related to his former employment, and there is an agreement to apply those funds to the purchase. In addition, electricity was supplied by the factory owners, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company Limited, and all payments are up to date,” the PNP said.

It also said it has examined all correspondence from SCJ Holdings Ltd, Sugar Company of Jamaica, and Pan Caribbean and is satisfied that the legal arrangements, as outlined by Wright, are consistent with the documents.

Additionally, the PNP said it believes that all the documents were available to the prime minister from SCJ “had he been interested in the truth, rather than attempting to manufacture a scandal to hide the misdeeds of his Administration”.

Wright, the PNP said, has been very transparent in the arrangement. “He has declared the matter to Parliament, and it was examined by the Ethics Committee of the House of Representatives. Further, it is included in his annual filings with the Integrity Commission,” the PNP said.

“Mr Holness's statement is a blot on the Office of Prime Minister,” the PNP said, adding that it expects a full apology, now that it has provided Holness with the complete information, which he can easily confirm.

“Wherever corruption exists, we are prepared to make the law take its course. There will be no cover-up and no pointing of fingers to the other side to justify our action,” the PNP said. “Corruption is corruption, and we must steadfastly commit to removing it from our ranks.”

Meanwhile, Wright told the Observer that all dealings between him and SCJ have been above board.

“I have documentary proof that everything was legitimate and I am currently awaiting SCJ Holdings to forward the sales agreement to me for the continuance of the transaction,” he said.

“In all fairness, my name was not called, it was implicated, but I know directly that it was pointed at me so I disclosed fully to the party and now to the public. The prime minister is on a witch-hunt and it just won't happen here,” Wright said.

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