Tue | Aug 11, 2020

LAND DEAL THREAT - Uncertainty over Belnavis $10m offer for gov’t lot

Published:Friday | July 10, 2020 | 12:24 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer
The lot in St Ann’s Bay that houses public sanitary conveniences and a Western Union outlet.
The lot in St Ann’s Bay that houses public sanitary conveniences and a Western Union outlet.

Sydney Stewart, the newly installed Mayor of St Ann’s Bay, told the monthly meeting of the Municipal Corporation yesterday that he would review and reverse, if necessary, the approved sale of a lot of land in the heart of the capital for $10 million to his predecessor, who resigned last week, as calls grew for him to step down.

The councillor for the Bamboo division in St Ann, who has been elevated to the top job in the wake of the resignation of Michael Belnavis last week, signalled that it would not be business as usual at the municipality.

The issue was raised by Councillor for the Beecher Town division, Ian Bell, who told the meeting that based on documents he had seen, the land was sold to Belnavis for $10 million.

Situated on Main Street in the capital, the land currently houses a public sanitary convenience to the rear and a Western Union outlet at the front, allegedly operated by Belnavis. The lot is sandwiched by a gas station and a supermarket.

Attempts to reach Belnavis for a comment last night were unsuccessful.

Bell said that the proposal to purchase the property was approved by the Trust and Estate Committee and later sent to the Finance Committee in February this year.

He said that at the time, he raised objections to the proposal, but before the matter could be ventilated, a motion was moved and seconded to approve the sale.

He said that the matter was next scheduled to be sent to the Local Government Ministry for approval, but he has yet to hear any thing further.

Contacted last night, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said he was not immediately able to comment on the reported development.

McKenzie asked for the questions on the matter to be submitted to him for his investigation and response.

However, Stewart informed the meeting that although the sale had been authorised it had not yet gone through and he would review it and possibly stop it.

Stewart later told The Gleaner: “I know that an application came to the corporation and it is being discussed. I’m aware of that. In terms of the argument about it being sold, we are not there yet. The recommendation has been made, and I’m saying to councillor Bell, if it is that you believe that we should abort that discussion and rescind where we are today, I’m expecting to look at that.

“The former mayor has occupied the premises for many years, and he made the application to try and acquire it. We did get a valuation, and that’s where we are, and the committee at that point had taken a decision that we will sell it to the mayor, but we’re not there yet,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Bell has also called for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the St Ann Municipal Corporation, Rovel Morris, to be sent on “short administrative leave with pay”, or be transferred, to facilitate a “smooth and proper” investigation of the corporation.

Bell argued that since the mayor has been forced to remove himself from the process, it is only prudent that Morris, who, as CEO has an impact on the daily operations of the municipality, should also be excused in order to allow for the investigations.

The Integrity Commission is currently conducting an investigation into several aspects of the operation of the municipality.

However, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who was at the meeting, said that such a move was something he would have to “take under advice” as he could not order such action without credible information.

Belnavis resigned as mayor last week. Yesterday, his short resignation letter was read at the meeting by Morris.

His resignation came after his fellow JLP councillors at the municipality pressed him to step aside.

The Gleaner first reported on June 28 that Belnavis, the former mayor, was a director of a private company that captured government land and constructed a building in a daring disregard of the country’s laws, which the corporation that he led was expected to have enforced.