MONTEGO BAY, St James — JUNIOR Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Ian Hayles has made a passionate plea for persons — particularly the youths in St James — who are involved in the multimillion- dollar lottery scam to turn to farming.
"Some of the most clever persons here in Montego Bay are involved in scamming, and if they would just bring the same skill set to the agricultural sector we will be on our way to reducing our food import bill," he argued.
The junior minister, who was addressing farmers and staff of the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA) in St James last week, noted that it worries him to hear persons talking that the young people of Montego Bay are not involved in farming or seeking a legitimate job, but would rather do scamming.
"Over the past couple of months you have been hearing in St James that young people are not interested in farming or going out to find a job anymore, it's all about scamming... and it really hurts, it hurts badly," said Hayles.
Arguing that agriculture is a industry that must be pursued aggressively, Hayles noted that technological advances in the sector over the years have allow persons who do not want to "get their nails and hands dirty" to become involved.
"The face of agriculture has changed over the years. Persons who do not want to get their nails and hands dirty can embark on greenhouse and hydroponics farming," he stressed.
He told the gathering that the Government is in the process of identifying suitable lands in St James on which the youth, particularly, can pursue a career in agriculture.
Meanwhile, the police on Tuesday revealed that the lottery scam, which is deeply rooted in the resort city of Montego Bay, has now spread its branches across to other regional territories.
"I can indicate to you that we, in examining our data on the activities, can say that the advent of scamming with its origin in the western region has now been decentralised and diversified, because we have been getting information that our Caribbean neighbours are receiving some of the practices... Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Bahamas... you name it," Acting Commissioner of Police in charge of Area One Devon Watkis disclosed.
Meanwhile, a senior police source told the Observer West that the police have noticed a pattern in which players in the lottery scam — similar to persons in the illicit drug trade — generally "go into these islands and hide and use their facilities too".
"We have information that they (players in the lottery scam) are even sending couriers to collect proceeds in the different Caribbean destinations and other places on their behalf," said the source.
"They are not only utilising Western Union; now packages are coming with money to players at the airport, packages coming in through the post offices, they are using all the legitimate means that facilitate commerce".
Data from the United States, ACP Watkis said, shows that the local economy is receiving up to US$1billion per annum from proceeds of the lottery scam.
"That is the US estimate but we can confirm that there are individuals in the west who were able to convince the elderly Americans to send up to US$370,000. There are individuals making $10 million a day," the ACP noted.
He warned, however, that the police is steadfast in their resolve to eradicate the illegal sweepstakes despite calls from persons for them to turn a blind eye to the lucrative scam.
"We have been getting a lot of reasons why we shouldn't be doing anything about it. I heard a female giving an account why a boy should be left alone. She was asking if we are going to find work for them".
He noted that the Jamaica, which is a signatory to several conventions such as the Palermo Convention, is obligated to fight the scam.
In underscoring the social ills that result from the illegal practice, ACP Watkis pointed to the recent closure of the 14 Western Union outlets in St James, forcing customers to crowd the three locations in the neighbouring parishes of Trelawny and Hanover.
Players in the lottery scam target mostly elderly US residents by luring them to transfer "processing fees" to claim winnings from a bogus sweepstakes.