Sat | Jul 31, 2021

More Rick’s drama in licence row

Published:Friday | June 11, 2021 | 12:16 AM
Bertel Moore, mayor of Savanna-la-Mar.
Bertel Moore, mayor of Savanna-la-Mar.

Two weeks after apologising for flagrant violations of Jamaica’s coronavirus public-safety laws at a Mocha Fest party hosted at Rick’s Café, the tourist hotspot’s financial controller is to answer to charges surrounding breaches of the Spirit Licence Act and the Municipal Corporation Act.

Conroy Barrett was issued with summonses on Thursday to attend the Westmoreland Parish Court on June 22 arising from the hosting of Mocha Fest last month.

But it is unclear whether the police will slap further charges on Rick’s under the Disaster Risk Management Act, which carries a maximum fine of $1 million.

That development comes as the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC) contradicted the Ministry of Local Government’s declaration on Tuesday that the café had been reissued a Places of Amusement Licence.

The retort by Savanna-la-Mar Mayor Bertel Moore represents another body blow for the Holness administration, which has been stung with criticism that agencies of the State might have enabled, or winked at, the hosting of the illegal party attended by hundreds of tourists.

That action has contrasted with the rounding up of locals in night-time blitzes and the much-publicised arrest of an offender under his bed that have netted more than $100 million in fines.

Moore was blunt in Thursday’s monthly meeting of the corporation, while Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie attended a similar session in the neighbouring parish of Hanover.

“Yes, there is an application here for renewal, but no, there is no [amusement] licence granted to them at this time,” said Moore, the chairman of the WMC, in response to a question from his deputy, Councillor Danree Delancy.

Moore said that the Westmoreland Health Department has been instructed to undertake inspections and return with a report.

“Let me say this: For them to get a permit, as far as I am concerned, it will be just to run the restaurant, and that is it!” said Moore.

On June 8, the ministry issued a statement saying that Rick’s Café was now clear to reopen having obtained the required operational certification.

“It emerged during our meeting with the management of the entity that its Places of Amusement Licence had expired. Since then, they have completed the application process, and the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation has issued them with this licence,” the statement read.

Delancy, supported by other People’s National Party (PNP) councillors, declared the Government’s statement as misleading.

“Such a statement has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some of our constituents because that statement coming from way up top, some people believe it and are now saying, how is it that Rick’s Café can get such a licence to renew in such a short period of time while the small man can’t?” Delancy said.

McKenzie was on the defensive on Thursday, parrying concerns that the Government was practising double standards.

“I dismiss that because that is not true. We have been consistent in executing the protocols, regardless of who it may be,” said McKenzie.

The police disclosed that the summonses for Barrett, the financial controller, were issued following an interview on Monday in the presence of Queen’s Counsel Peter Champagnie, who is representing him.

Champagnie declined comment on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Sharon Beeput, commander of the Hanover police, has disputed the account of Dr Kaushal Singh, medical officer of health for the parish, who said that he had, on May 21, referred information to law enforcers that the May 24-31 week of parties was being advertised.

“Dr Singh did not report anything to me … . He asked me if I knew anything about it, and I told him no,” said Beeput, who said on Thursday that she had only become aware of the event when a viral video emerged.

Singh and public health inspectors have revealed that days before Mocha Fest, they issued letters to hotels whose guests had been planning to attend the event.

The hotels denied involvement in Mocha Fest’s coordination.

Singh said that the police and health officials had been unable to locate the sites for the parties.

Albert Ferguson, Adrian Frater, and Barbara Gayle contributed to this story.