Wed | Jun 16, 2021

THEY KNEW

Officials were aware of Mocha Fest but say couldn’t find venues

Published:Thursday | June 10, 2021 | 12:18 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Dr Kaushal Singh, medical officer of health for Hanover.
Dr Kaushal Singh, medical officer of health for Hanover.
Rick's Café has been recertified for the resumption of business.
Rick's Café has been recertified for the resumption of business.
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The Hanover Health Department was fully aware of the planning of Mocha Fest, but medical officials and the police claimed that they were unable to locate the sites for the week of illegal parties that sparked public outrage. The breach and apparent...

The Hanover Health Department was fully aware of the planning of Mocha Fest, but medical officials and the police claimed that they were unable to locate the sites for the week of illegal parties that sparked public outrage.

The breach and apparent slowness by the authorities to scale up investigations fast enough contrasted with the jackbooted rounding up of locals who commit similar offences.

The May 24-31 party series was crashed after videos went viral showing hundreds of patrons, mostly tourists, contravening public-safety laws at western Jamaica hotspot Rick’s Cafe. Parties have been banned since 2020 because of the island’s outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has killed nearly 1,000 people here and infected almost 50,000.

Correspondence seen by The Gleaner indicates that public-health inspectors and the police had been tipped off days before the event, with the health department reaching out to several hotels listed on a promotional flyer.

The shutdown and decertification of Rick’s by government agencies sparked incredulity among many Jamaicans who questioned how a party heavily promoted on the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) website and via other media could have gone under the radar.

The JTB pulled the promo when the scandal erupted.

Dr Kaushal Singh, medical officer at the Hanover Health Department, said that the department was alerted to advertisements of the party and wrote to the general managers of several hotels in the parish whose packages were listed on the Mocha Fest website.

In one of the letters under the signature of Public Health Inspector George Virgo and dated May 21, which was dispatched to the general manager of the Azul Beach Resort in Negril, the hotel was asked to confirm whether it was participating in the festival and to state how many visitors they were projecting for the period.

The hotel was also asked for details on scheduling and to “specify any issue that they foresee which could be a threat to the public health safety during the events”.

Several hotel managers in Negril, which lies on the border of Hanover and Westmoreland, indicated that while they had booked rooms for individuals who intended to attend the annual Mocha Fest in May, the events were not slated to take place at their properties.

Chief Public Health Inspector Patricia Hall Patterson, who was copied on Virgo’s letter to Azul, said that similar correspondence was sent to five other managers of hotels mentioned in the Mocha Fest promotion.

Besides Azul, the hotels listed were Hideaway at Royalton, Hedonism II, Royalton Negril, Grand Lido Resort Negril, and Riu Palace Tropical Bay.

“I was made aware through my inspectors about this Mocha Fest thing,” she said when asked if her office got information from social media.

That was the basis of the May 21 letter to the management of Azul, she said, before referring other questions from The Gleaner to Singh.

Singh said on Wednesday that Azul denied that it was participating in Mocha Fest.

“They only have the rooms booked for the guests in their hotel,” he said of Azul’s response.

Similar responses were given by the managers of the other hotels, with the majority indicating that they were only providing accommodation.

Singh said several efforts were made to find the locations of the events, but hotel guests were not quizzed by his team.

“Why would we speak to the guests? We don’t have any communication with the guests!” he told The Gleaner.

“I don’t know why, but nobody was giving information about where are the events.”

Singh said the matter was reported to the commanding officer for the Hanover Police Division, Superintendent Sharon Beeput.

The superintendent could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Calls to Superintendent Robert Gordon, commander of the Westmoreland Police Division, went unanswered as well.

Steve Morris, chief public health inspector for Westmoreland, said that the leadership of the parish’s health department was unaware of the event.

“There was no communication from the location to the health department ... .

“I am not saying that somebody from the region or the health ministry wouldn’t know, but not the health department here.”

St Andrade Sinclair, weeks into the job as acting regional director of the Western Regional Health Authority, said he, too, was unaware.

A video of revellers at Rick’s circulating in late May sparked the lockdown of the venue.

The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development announced on Tuesday that Rick’s Cafe has been cleared to reopen and that it has also been recertified by the Tourism Product Development Company.

The Government also disclosed that the operators of Rick’s Cafe have been charged under the Disaster Risk Management Act.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com