Should Michael Belnavis be redeemed?
THE EDITOR, Madam:
In 2020, the former mayor of St Ann was chastised for using public funds to install a charging device at the municipality office for his electric vehicle, a Porsche. Belnavis used his vehicle for business as mayor; he was not provided with a government vehicle. Travelling officers in government receive an allowance for upkeep and gas. The charger could have been easily justified as an expense serving the municipality office and users of electric vehicles.
A big fuss was made over the port which cost a mere $80,000. Belnavis eventually resigned as mayor and repaid the cost of charger. St Ann lost a good mayor in the process, one who was visible and active. The comments online were vicious towards Belnavis who was chided for misusing public funds for personal benefit.
The Integrity Commission described the purchase as “inappropriate and an abuse of power”. They recommended to the attorney general that sanctions be levelled against the CEO of the St Ann Municipal Corporation for authorising the port-charger installation.
It was also reported that the corporation recorded an increase in electricity usage since the charger was installed, but I think, if this were significant, we would have known. In my opinion, the question the Integrity Commission should have asked is, was the charging port beneficial to the work of the municipality? Would the charger benefit other users in the future, employees and visitors? Of course, if protocols weren’t followed, that is another matter, but a warning and an order for repayment might have been sufficient at the time, considering the cost. There was no theft of funds, we are not talking millions, and the mayor used his personal vehicle to travel for council business. If his vehicle used gas, they would have reimbursed for gas.
The reality is that the global market for electric cars has been rising. Electric cars were recently loaned to five ministries by two dealers, according to reports. How will they charge these cars at the workplace? Who pays for the charging ports and electricity? Is solar energy an option for power?
The Government also announced the addition of 45 electric buses to the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation fleet, and charging ports will be installed. Car manufacturers in the US predict that, by 2030, half the cars sold will be electric. In hindsight, the Belnavis incident was an impulsive over-reaction triggered by the simple fact that his vehicle was a high-end Porsche, critics chose to ignore the market trends and the fact that he also used his car for work.