More things wrong with WRIGHT

More things wrong with WRIGHT

...say unhappy Trelawny Northern executive committee members, who insist PNP's future in seat looks grim

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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It appears that embattled Trelawny Northern Member of Parliament (MP) Victor Wright is fighting battles on two fronts — one with Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings, which says it is taking him to court for a debt of just over $3 million, and the other with his constituency executive who have made damaging accusations about him and his leadership style.

News of the discord between Wright and the constituency executive emerged last week in a letter shown to the Jamaica Observer and which, the newspaper learnt, was sent to People's National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson last year.

The letter, signed by four members of the executive committee — Annette Parchment, vice-chairman, political education; Janet Dunbar, vice-chairman, electoral matters; Sonia Thorpe, vice-chairman, welfare; and Annmarie Barham, vice-chairman, outreach and recruitment — states that there have been “administrative aberrations the likes of which threaten to shatter PNP political aspiration and representation in the parish irreparably”.

“We, the members of the executive, would like to bring to your attention the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs in the constituency,” the letter to Robinson states, accusing Wright, who won the seat in the 2016 General Election, of a “high-handed and self-serving management style”.

The executive members claim that management of the Constituency Development Fund is in shambles. They also allege that the relationship between the MP and stalwart party functionaries is “unworkable”.

Yesterday, a member of the executive told the Sunday Observer that although the letter was sent last year the situation has not improved. In fact, the official said that things had worsened, resulting in, among other things, a long-time financial backer of the PNP switching sides to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Attempts yesterday to reach Wright for a response were not successful as calls to his cellphone went unanswered.

According to the executive committee members, “The problems have been further compounded by the fact that we no longer have a constituency organiser.”

“Consequently, information regarding the day-to-day running of the organisation is not readily available and general accountability has broken down,” the letter states.

“Unfortunately, there seems to have evolved a poor working relationship between the MP and the members of the constituency executive. This has been demonstrated through the fact that there has been no treasurer's report from the executive for the past two years,” the executive members claim. They also said that no minutes of any meeting have been taken.

“Communication between the MP and the executive can best be described as frosty,” the executive members said as they appealed to Robinson for his intervention.

“In 2016 we thought we had hit on a bright, young man who we thought could be a seven-term veteran for the party. Now, with his evolution has emerged a sad truth. Loyalty to our party is more important than loyalty to an MP, hence our stand to clean up what is truly a messy situation,” the letter writers said.

“We cannot continue to give excuses. We must face the reality that if things continue the way they are the party's future with this seat looks very grim indeed.”

Late last month Wright found himself at the centre of controversy with SCJ Holdings, which is adamant that he owes the company just over $3.6 million in rent and electricity. However, Wright insisted that he paid his bills and said he is prepared to go to court, as he is confident that he is correct in his position.

The dispute arose after Prime Minister Andrew Holness — apparently smarting from criticisms of his handling of a land controversy involving Government legislator JC Hutchinson — said there are Opposition MPs who are occupying Government land without paying rent.

Addressing a JLP Area Council One meeting in St Andrew on July 19, Holness used the analogy of a pot and a steaming kettle to admit that both the JLP and the PNP are haunted by unethical behaviour.

“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,” Holness said.

“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,” said Holness, who had two days before 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.

Holness's move came after news emerged that Hutchinson had written SCJ Holdings Limited 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.

While Holness did not name Wright, the Opposition said his reference to a PNP MP 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 on July 20.

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 had examined all correspondence from SCJ Holdings Limited, Sugar Company of Jamaica, and Pan Caribbean and was satisfied that the legal arrangements, as outlined by Wright, are consistent with the documents.

Wright — who is the PNP's spokesman on industry, commerce, agriculture, and fisheries — 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.

SCJ Holdings Limited said that in 2011 it entered a two-year lease agreement with Wright for the property — which also contains a two-storey house with a conditional option to purchase — at a rate of $5,000 per month for the first year, and an increase of five per cent every year therafter.

But, despite a 2013 letter in which it indicated to Wright that it would extend the lease for one year and demanded outstanding rental payments of $159,150, no formal agreement had been signed to extend the lease and the option to purchase was never followed up.

SCJ Holdings said in 2014 it wrote to Wright indicating that the two-year lease he was granted in 2011 would not be extended and gave him “notice to quit and deliver up possession of the property... on or before July 4, 2014”.

According to the SCJ, at that time Wright owed $127,650 in lease payments.

The SCJ added that its records show that between 2019 and now Wright made three payments totalling $60,500 for electricity charges, but based on its estimate of his electricity consumption he should have paid just under $3 million.

However, in response, Wright said the SCJ's calculation is false and is based on an assumption that is wrong.

He listed his payments and money owed to him by the SCJ as $725,000, and said his obligation to the agency was approximately $744,000, leaving him with a credit of almost $19,000.

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