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No update on UK prison offer before 2017 - Gov't delays Senate answer, Opposition angry

Published:Saturday | December 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Charles Jr

The wait for Jamaica to get an update from its Government on the United Kingdom's (UK) J$5.5 billion offer to help build a prison here will go into 2017 - a situation opposition senators have labelled "an unsatisfactory state of affairs".

Lambert Brown, an opposition member, on July 15, tabled the politically sensitive questions, which were due for answer on August 5. No answer could be provided then as the Senate was on summer recess. It resumed sittings on September 23 and has met eight times since, with no answer forthcoming.

At yesterday's final sitting for the year, acting leader of government business, Pearnel Charles Jr, pointing to a closed folder, told the Senate that he had the answers but could not release them because of ongoing 'sensitive' discussions between Jamaican and British authorities.

Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson asked for a more definitive timeline to which the junior minister in the national security ministry responded: "In very early January or very early next year, I anticipate that they (talks) would be completed."


Violates standing orders


Brown was not at yesterday's sitting, but Mark Golding, the leader of opposition business, was not satisfied and told the Senate that the Opposition was registering its "strongest protest".

"We're being told that there's some process that needs to be followed for the answers to be presented, but the answers are here. It really doesn't make sense. Whatever process or diplomatic discussions may be happening behind the scenes is really irrelevant. The answers are ready; they should be tabled and presented."

Added Golding: "This ongoing kicking of the football further and further down the road is really not acceptable and it violates the standing orders and the right of the Senate to hear these answers on behalf of the people of Jamaica."

The standing orders require that answers be provided 21 days after a question is tabled.

The issue is sensitive for the prime minister because, while leading the opposition last year, he told then British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced the deal, that the money would be better spent on education.

Charles Jr, in a Gleaner interview said the position remained, adding that the Government was focused on reducing the population in the old prisons that the public defender had said were below the minimum standards set by the Constitution.


British prisoners


A condition of the deal included Jamaica accepting about 300 British prisoners of Jamaican heritage to complete their sentence here. The UK's $5.5 billion for the 1,500-bed facility would only be 40 per cent of the cost. Jamaica would have to find the rest.

Some Jamaicans feel the offer, accompanied by the condition, was "insulting", especially after Cameron dismissed reparation calls for British slavery with his "move on" comment.

The Senate, in its last duty for the year, joined the House of Representatives in approving two bills - the Jamaica Racing Commission (Amendment) Act, 2016, and the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act, 2016 - that will give Supreme Ventures Limited a 15-year exclusivity in the local horseracing market. That company will take over the operations of Caymanas Track Limited in January.