Under pressure over questions surrounding a controversial contract at the Clarendon Alumina Production (CAP), Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) chairman and Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague yesterday downplayed the significance of him losing oversight of the entity.
Addressing the 78th annual general conference of the JLP, Montague said he supports the decision made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to transfer responsibility for CAP from his portfolio to the Dr Nigel Clarke-led Ministry of Finance and Public Service.
“This is not a time for ego and self-interest. This is a time for Jamaica and there are a lot of right things going on,” said Montague as he addressed the virtual conference with 10 satellite sites across the island.
In the lead-up to yesterday's conference JLP sources were reporting that Montague could be challenged for the chairmanship of the party to clear the way for Holness to sideline him when a Cabinet reshuffle comes early next year.
According to the sources, some young members of the party were prepared to nominate a challenge to Montague, but they walked away after some powerful Labourities in St Thomas and Portland refused to support them, while others shied away because the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) had called for Montague's head.
In a release late last week the PNP's young affiliates group the Patriots highlighted that there have been numerous allegations of corruption, negligence, and abuse of public trust at several statutory entities under the stewardship of Montague since he was appointed to the Cabinet in 2016.
“These issues include the police used-car fiasco, the suspicions of corruption at the Firearm Licensing Authority, the unauthorised investment débâcle at the Airports Authority of Jamaica, which led to the resignation of that entire board of directors, and now the current situation unfolding at Clarendon Alumina Production, which has also led to the resignation of that entire board of directors.” said the PNP group.
But yesterday Montague used the JLP's conference to list what he cited as the good things done by the Government post-the 2020 General Election.
He pointed out that a levy on bauxite has been reintroduced and roughly 2,000 hectares of land has been removed from a bauxite licence to prevent mining near the Cockpit Country.
Just over one week ago the United Company RUSAL (UC RUSAL) paid approximately US$13.7 million to the Government for he Bauxite Production Levy.
This figure represents 40 per cent of the bauxite levy that UC RUSAL owed the Government for the period April 2018 and September 2021.
It also includes the first payment of the remaining 60 per cent of the debt, which both parties have agreed will be paid in equal monthly instalments over a period of 30 months starting this month.
Montague noted that the Government had not renewed licences that had not been used to make way for new investment.
“I have been taken to court over that, but we stand by it,” Montague told the conference.
“We are going to launch a castor oil production project so that we can grow castor oil [bean] and mix it with diesel and the Jamaica Urban Transit Company will become a ready market so we can reduce our carbon footprint. We have a bauxite land titling programme and we are moving to correct some historic wrong and to get people their titles who have been denied this over the years. We are moving to clear the backlog of some 3,000 titles. We continue to work with the ministries of labour and tourism in order to get another 10,000 Jamaican jobs on Cruise Ships. We are laying the groundwork to build back stronger,” declared Montague.