Was this a case of overreaction?
Michael Belnavis

Dear Editor,

Electric cars have been gaining momentum due to environmental as well as performance benefits.

In 2020 former mayor of St Ann Michael Belnavis was chastised for using public funds to install a charging device at the municipality office for his electric vehicle, a Porsche. Belnavis used his vehicle for business as mayor; he was not provided with a government vehicle. Travelling officers in government receive an allowance for upkeep and gas. The charger could've been easily justified as an expense serving the municipality office and users of electric vehicles.

A big fuss was made over the port, which cost a mere $80,000 or a couple hundred US dollars. Perhaps protocols weren't followed with the purchase, installation, and usage of the charger, but was this corruption and misuse of public funds?

Belnavis eventually resigned as mayor and repaid the cost of the charger. St Ann lost a good mayor in the process, one that was visible and active. The comments online were vicious towards Belnavis, who was chided for misusing public funds for personal benefit.

The Integrity Commission described the purchase as "inappropriate and an abuse of power", they recommended to the Attorney General that sanctions be levelled against the CEO of the St Ann Municipality for authorising the port charger installation.

It was also reported that the corporation recorded an increase in electricity usage since the charger was installed, but I think, if this was significant, we would've known. The questions the Integrity Commission should've asked are: Was the charging port beneficial to the work of the municipality? Would the charger benefit other users in the future, employees and visitors?

Of course, if protocols weren't followed, that is another matter, but a warning and an order for repayment might've been sufficient at the time, considering the cost. There was no theft of funds, we are not talking millions, and the mayor used his personal vehicle to travel for council business. If his vehicle used gas, they would've reimbursed for gas.

The reality is that the global market for electric cars has been rising due to increase in gas prices and the performance and environmental benefits of these types of vehicles. Local dealers are now moving into the electric car market.

Electric cars were recently loaned to five ministries by two dealers, according to reports. How will they charge these cars at the workplace? Who pays for the charging ports and electricity? Is solar energy an option for power? Jamaica Public Service says it is committed to rolling out public charging stations to the extent that 90 per cent of the population will eventually be within easy access of a port.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a statement on Instagram, said: "The world is reaching a tipping point for the adoption of electric vehicles. Jamaica must not be left behind. We have set a goal that 10 per cent of transportation should be powered by electric vehicles by 2030." The Government also announced the addition of 45 electric buses to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company fleet, and charging ports will be installed.

Car manufacturers in the USA predict that by 2030 half the cars sold will be electric. In hindsight, the Belnavis incident was an impulsive overreaction triggered by the simple fact that his vehicle was a high-end Porsche. Critics chose to ignore the market trends and the fact that he also used his car at work, for work.

P Chin


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