Wheatley comes out swinging while court fight goes on


Sunday, July 12, 2020

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HE is going nowhere.

So all those who do not want Dr Andrew O'Brien Wheatley to run again for the office of Member of Parliament can, to borrow a phrase used years ago by retired Prime Minister PJ Patterson, “faget it.”

The embattled MP for St Catherine South Central, who filed action in the Supreme Court last Tuesday for a judicial review of the findings of the Integrity Commission which painted him in a negative way, insists that until the people of the constituency reject him as their representative in the House of Representatives, those who are calling for him not to contest in the next general election had better focus their energies elsewhere.

“I was elected by my people, and anyone who wishes to remove me from that seat will have to speak to the people of South Central St Catherine. I am sure I have the full support of my constituents, especially the support of my delegates. I started a job and will finish that job,” Dr Wheatley told the Jamaica Observer in an exclusive interview last week.

The utterances of the biochemist and businessman — who resigned as minister of science, technology and energy in July 2018 amid swirling allegations of corruption and nepotism at the State oil-refinery Petrojam — also follow the Integrity Commission's conclusions that officials of Petrojam, for which Wheatley once had responsibility, committed acts of “irregularity and/or impropriety, conflict of interest, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and favouritism”. The commission's report also accused Dr Wheatley of being “less than truthful” during an interview with representative of the body that reports to the Jamaica Parliament, which Dr Wheatley vehemently denies.

“My constituency is a very loyal one to me and the structure is one that is harmonious in terms of how we think. We have a very united team. We have closed the door. There is no opening for challenges,” said the man whose constituency covers the divisions of Homestead, Horizon Park, and Sydenham — all controlled by Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillors in the St Catherine Municipal Corporation, which he served as deputy mayor and mayor.

“My constituency has the lowest crime rate in the St Catherine North (Police) division,” he continued, something he attributes to his “no-nonsense” style, being, by his admission, “the number one informer”.

“If I see it I am going to tell the police. If you bring anybody from outside the constituency, you have to stand responsibility for them. A lot of people don't realise that in inner-city communities, the majority of people want good for themselves and their children. Nobody wants to be poor forever and having to struggle. Ninety-nine per cent of the people in inner-city communities are good people who don't support crime and violence,” he told the Sunday Observer.

“As a MP, how you think I know what's happening in the constituency? The people tell me… and you check and verify and take action after. All the intelligence... it's the people who tell me. Something may be going on with a group of men, and a man right there would call me and say 'bossie, mi see dis a gwaan an mi no like it'. They know that they can't come in front of me with an illegal gun. If you can't provide a firearm licence in front of me, you are in problems.

“I am not naive that people in the constituency don't have illegal guns, but they can't come in front of me with it. My strength is that I have been very sincere as it relates to representing the people,” Wheatley said.

But how do the people of St Catherine South Central feel about the Integrity Commission report?

“Right now I have to be holding back my people from taking to the street (in protest). I have held three meetings in each division so far and they are very angry with the mere suggestion (of irregular conduct). They know that their Member of Parliament is one that is forthright in his dealings. They know my approach as a no-nonsense person,” he said.

“You will hear in the constituency things like, 'Mr Wheatley don't romp with people yu nuh', because I believe in certain principles. I am about empowerment and self-upliftment. I am not into the traditional politics, I want to move my people forward, and most of my programmes are geared at self-empowerment. Even when I was minister, the programmes that I instituted, the most successful youth empowerment programme was the TAP Technology Advancement Programme. You can ask any of the over 1,000 TAP participants about the impact of that programme. These are things that no one will ever be able to refute. I get calls and messages every day from people I don't know, who are actual participants in the programme,” Dr Wheatley said.

The former full-time University of the West Indies lecturer said he would implore those critical of him to, first and foremost, look at the Integrity Commission report to get a conclusion of what the findings were. The report, he said, in essence exonerated him, while insisting that he should not be used as a partisan political scapegoat.

Revealing that he spends 40 per cent of the money allocated to him as MP under the State's Constituency Development Fund on education each year by way of university grants, assistance with book vouchers, among other initiatives the former energy minister stressed that a priority is placed on those who visit the constituency office seeking education support.

“Education is what propelled me to where I am in life, and I believe that education is the greatest equaliser. It doesn't matter where you are coming from. If you have ambition and the mindset and you commit yourself to it, I am sure that you will make it,” he said.

“I realise the fact also that it's not everybody who will succeed through education, so we have other development programmes, embracing some with the HEART Trust/NTA, several graduates we pay for. We utilise the community centres and high schools in the constituency to do training, like Innswood High School for technical training,” the holder of a PhD in basic medicine continued.

Regarding his potential role as a Cabinet minister in a future political administration headed by his close friend and confidante, Andrew Holness, Dr Wheatley gave the Sunday Observer the kind of 'leave alone' akin to when former cricketer Courtney Walsh neglected to play at a ball. “I would be willing to serve in any capacity that the prime minister sees fit for me to serve, but the most important thing to me is the welfare of the people of South Central St Catherine. They are my strength,” he said.

And would he want to go back to the energy ministry? The bat came up even higher. “That would be at the wisdom of the PM. I have learnt from this experience, and I believe that it is part of my own development as a person and as a representative of the people. I have learnt a lot of things (from the Integrity Commission saga) … and it's not just about not trusting people. In all things, you have to look beyond what is visible, whether within or outside of your own party. Not everybody likes me in the party, that's the nature of life, because of some of my choices,” he argued.

Describing himself as a spiritual person who was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though he would not reveal whether or not he now eats pork, a meat shunned by Adventists, Dr Wheatley said that it is because of that spiritual component which he applied in the constituency why the crime rate is low.

“Every man fears God, no matter how bad he believes he is. When a bad man gets a gunshot, he first bawls out 'Jesus'. So it's that spirituality which everyone fears. I remember when I was doing my exams, I prayed to God and when I am having my problems I pray to God and things work out, so there is nothing special about me. I continue to pray to God and I know that things will work out.”

During the 2013 JLP leadership race between Holness and Audley Shaw, Dr Wheatley came out in strong support of the now prime minister, and there is a view in JLP circles that those who were in Shaw's corner are still not so chummy with him.

Dr Wheatley began his political career in 2003 as councillor for the Naggo Head Division in the then St Catherine Parish Council, beating Vivian Matthews of the PNP by 164 votes. His peers elected him deputy mayor to Dr Raymoth Notice, and he stepped up to the mayor's chair in 2005 when Dr Notice, a medical practitioner and martial artist, quit.

When Jamaica's parliamentary electoral seats were increased by three to 63 in time for the 2011 General Election, Dr Wheatley was thrown into the St Catherine South Central seat, prevailing in a three-way internal JLP challenge that saw his closest opponent Dr Sandra Nesbeth getting a mere 28 votes, to his 305. The third candidate mustered only 11 votes.

In the December 2011 General Election, Dr Wheatley thumped People's National Party representative and president of the National Workers' Union Vincent Morrison, securing 6,833 votes to Morrison's 3,566 in a 47 per cent voter turnout. In the next general election of February 2016, the incumbent mauled the PNP's Courtney Spence in even more decisive fashion by polling 8,283 votes, against the 2,929 votes marked for Spence. That time there was a 43 per cent turnout.

“I want to win by a four to one margin this election, based on my performance in the constituency,” Dr Wheatley stated.

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