Sun | Jul 5, 2020

Johnson Smith says PM gave 'honest' response to prison rejection issue

Published:Saturday | June 6, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Johnson Smith: The Prime Minister gave an honest answer.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith says Prime Minister Andrew Holness was truthful when he told the nation on Friday that his administration did not reject the United Kingdom’s offer to help build a prison here.

In a tweet, she said Holness gave an "honest" answer.

Holness was asked, how does he measure his effort to improve the prison system since he rejected the offer by the British to help build a facility here.

He responded: "Just to be clear, I was not the government at the time when the offer was rejected."


But on January 13, 2017, that's almost a year after Holness became prime minister, Johnson Smith told the Jamaican Senate that the government rejected the offer because the terms were “not beneficial to Jamaica as a whole” and that the matter was closed.

The offer had been made while the Portia Simpson Miller-led People's National Party was in government.

IN PHOTO: In this September 30, 2015 file photo, then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller introduces then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness to David Cameron, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, on his arrival to the island.

In media appearances, Johnson Smith reiterated the position of the Holness administration, including on Television Jamaica’s Smile Jamaica morning programme on January 16, 2017.

"What has been offered has not been accepted,” she said.

Other members of the administration including former National Security Minister Robert Montague said the government preferred support for schools and factories.

It’s why the prime minister’s comments on Friday may have introduced some confusion, compounded by Johnson Smith’s post on Twitter.  

Jamaica House has been asked to say whether Holness is standing by his comments.

However, there was no immediate response.

On his visit to Kingston in September 2015, UK Prime Minister David Cameron made the controversial prison offer to Jamaica.

During that visit, while addressing Parliament, Cameron also urged the nation to “move on” from slavery.

Under the non-binding prison agreement struck with the Portia Simpson Miller administration, Jamaica would fund 60 per cent of the prison construction cost.

The British would provide $5.5 billion .

It had also signalled that as part of the deal, 300 Jamaicans serving time in the UK for crimes committed there would complete 18 months of their sentences in the new facility in Jamaica.

The proposal, which got support from some rights groups, was criticised by the then Holness-led Opposition, academics, among others. 

The prison issue has been resurrected following reports that 81-year-old Noel Chambers died under inhumane circumstances at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre where he had been for 40 years without trial.

READ: PM ‘embarrassed’ by inhumane prison death

Holness said he was ‘embarrassed’ when he saw pictures of Chambers’ condition. Though not giving details, also disclosed that the Government is now mulling a proposal for a new prison.

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