Editorial | Glimmer of hope in fight against corruption
The actions taken in the troubled St Ann Municipal Corporation, culminating in the ousting of Mayor Michael Belnavis, are a small-but-significant signal that all may not be lost in the national fight to overcome ethical dilemmas.
Responding to controversies that have rocked the municipality, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillors demanded that Belnavis resign – and he did. Prior to that, the opposition councillors had called for his impeachment. The entire council seemed to have been unhappy with Belnavis’ leadership. The newly installed mayor, Sydney Stewart, has promised that it will not be business as usual.
Tackling corruption, even the hint of it, requires decisive action, the kind of action that successive administrations seemed to have dodged in order to keep their majority intact. So this action in St Ann, added to the resignations of two government ministers who once served the current JLP administration, gives us a glimmer of hope.
Belnavis found himself at the centre of controversy for getting an $80,000 car-charging port to be constructed at the council for his personal motor vehicle. In justification, he explained that he had been waiting for three years without a council-assigned vehicle, and his hybrid motor vehicle required a charging port. The hoopla this created led him to dismantle the port.
Added to that, the $46 million spent to undertake the sanitisation of the town of Ocho Rios, in response to COVID-19, raised eyebrows, as it was considered an excessive sum in comparison to similar projects undertaken elsewhere in the country. It is also alleged that Belnavis is a director of a company that constructed a building on state land without approval.
These matters are currently being investigated, and we await the findings. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said it was the unanimous decision of JLP councillors that it was in the best interests of the corporation for Belnavis to step aside while the matters are investigated.
JAMAICANS CARE ABOUT INTEGRITY
Despite opinion polls that seem to suggest that Jamaicans do not care too much about corruption in public life, there is ample evidence in public uttering, letters to the media, and various commentaries that there are many who do care about integrity and honesty, and believe that it should be one of the Government’s top priorities to make integrity a front-burner issue.
People who have taken an oath of office ought to think about ethical situations, whether real or imagined, and consider how they ought to respond in order to put citizens’ interests ahead of all other considerations. Whether you are a seasoned politician or a young entrant, we urge you to do a critical examination. Will your action have a negative impact on the people you are sworn to serve? What do your actions mean for the democracy of the country?
Now that Mr Belnavis is no longer in office, what’s next for the St Ann Municipal Corporation?
The lesson from this fallout is that whatever Mr Belnavis achieved as mayor will now be overshadowed by condemnatory allegations that he is facing and the fact that he was forced to resign from the lofty position of mayor.
The council must now move to repair its image, ramp up financial oversight of its affairs, and see how quickly it can get St Ann, especially the areas that serve the tourism market, back up and ready to receive guests post-COVID-19. The new mayor and the entire council must now confront the economic challenges that the parish faces in bouncing back from the pandemic.
Seize the opportunity, Mr Mayor, and build a battle plan that is both inclusive and dynamic, so that, together, you can put St Ann on a better path.