Sat | Sep 23, 2017

'Bunting can talk only in Gordon House' - Used car dealer challenges PNP spokesman to repeat allegations outside of Parliament

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2017 | 6:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Some of the 30 used cars handed over to the Ministry of National Security by O’Brien’s International Car Sales & Rentals Ltd for the police last week.
Bunting
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The motor vehicle dealer at the centre of the controversy over the importation of used cars for the police force has challenged Opposition Spokesman Peter Bunting to repeat the allegations against him without the protection of Parliament.

Clement Ebanks, managing director of O'Brien's International Car Sales and Rentals Limited, last week told The Sunday Gleaner that while he would not respond to the individual allegations made by Bunting, he would be prepared to take action.

"Him can't get up and make the claims because him have Parliament. Him get up and talk inna Parliament what he feels like. He can't come out a road come talk it," declared Ebanks, who cannot take legal action against Bunting because the statements were made inside the House of Representatives where members are protected from libel suits.

 

Questionable move

 

During his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in April, Bunting charged that the contract to import the used cars had been granted to a dealer he understood had not imported a vehicle in the last two years.

"The other question the minister needs to answer is whether the Ministry of National Security has any fit and proper criteria that they apply when issuing a huge contract for over $400 million.

"Does it matter whether a director or shareholder of this company is the subject of 'adverse traces' by local or international law enforcement, or has previously been convicted of narcotics-related offences and deported from the USA?" added Bunting.

Despite indicating that he would not respond to Bunting, Ebanks told The Sunday Gleaner that while he has been accused of being a drug lord, he did not allow that to stop him from his primary goal of supplying the police with vehicles that would enhance the ability of the men and women of the force to fight crime.

"A drug lord supposed to make at least US$5 billion. If I am making US$5 billion a year, what am I doing in car business?" Ebanks told our news team in an exclusive interview last Wednesday after he handed over 30 of 80 motor vehicles to the security ministry.

"If a little black man try, it's a problem, it's unfair," said Ebanks, who believed he had secured a major coup when he was awarded the contract to supply the police force with 200 pre-owned vehicles.

But Ebanks was not prepared for the public scrutiny and accusations he would later face.

He told our news team that the decision by Security Minister Robert Montague to purchase used cars for the police was the sort of boost the Jamaica used-car industry needed. Ebanks said for years he had watched in dismay as most of the government contracts for vehicles had gone to new-car dealers.

"We have 256 used-car dealers in Jamaica and I sent emails to every dealer (saying) 'let us go at it'," said Ebanks.

 

Daring venture

 

According to Ebanks, the bid was the most daring venture he and his team at the 20-year-old company had ever undertaken. "It was a very tough tender and you had to find serious collateral to do this tender. It was the first I have ever tendered. You had to get professional people to do it, so we put a team together," said Ebanks.

He said his company was considered the most reasonable upon assessment as it displayed the ability to provide the vehicles within the security ministry's $426 million budget.

But the decision by the ministry to select O'Brien's International Car Sales and Rentals and the slow pace of the delivery was to spark the controversy which played out in Parliament.

After Bunting's charge, Security Minister Robert Montague responded and pointed out that the Trade Board issued the company 27 permits in 2016 and it used them. Montague also listed the motor vehicle imports by the company for the previous years.

In the meantime, Ebanks said the team travelled to Japan to inspect the 80 Toyota Axio cars his company was expected to deliver, while 120 Toyota Hilux vehicles were sourced from Dubai, Thailand and England.

"I am doing good for the country," added Ebanks, as he argued that the deal with his company was saving the Government $86 million.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com