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Act against Bartlett on AA issue, urges shadow minister

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
People's National Party (PNP) Chairman Robert Pickersgill looks on as Dr Wykeham McNeill, opposition spokesman on tourism, addresses journalists during a press conference held yesterday at the PNP's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

Mark Beckford, Staff Reporter

Refraining from an explicit call for the resignation of Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, the shadow minister for the portfolio, Dr Wykeham McNeill, yesterday said a report from Contractor General Greg Christie amounted to a vote of no-confidence in his ability to run the ministry.

"These are very serious allegations and we have to see some action taken on it," McNeill told
The Gleaner
yesterday after a press conference at the People's National Party's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters. "I am being encouraged by many to call for the resignation. I have taken the route of saying that the prime minister first should determine what (should be done). Let us see what action the attorney general deems is necessary."

Improperly awarded

Christie's report stated that the multimillion-dollar air service agreements between Jamaica and American Airlines (AA) were improperly and irregularly awarded. The report stated that the Bruce Golding administration was misled about details of the US$4.5 million airlift guarantee deal, which was signed before it was presented to Cabinet.

Contractor General Greg Christie said he had sent his report to the attorney general to "determine and to advise what appropriate and/or applicable actions may be taken or initiated" against Bartlett, John Lynch and Lionel Reid, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.

Lynch, the director of tourism, and Reid, executive director of Jamaica Vacations (JAMVAC), were also found by Christie to have played major roles in the alleged irregularities.

However, Bartlett, in a letter written to Prime Minister Golding dated March 1, rejected the findings, saying that the main intention of the group was to avert a significant hit to the island's tourism earnings. He also asserted that there was "total transparency" in the deal.

Bartlett said the deal with AA was pursued to prevent the subsequent loss of any routes and seats based on what they perceived was impending action from the airline.

These actions included the indefinite suspension of service from Dallas to Montego Bay, the reduction of service from Miami to Montego Bay and the reduction of aircraft from New York to Montego Bay.

Arrivals the same as 2009

However, McNeill claimed figures obtained from the Jamaica Tourist Board show that arrivals from these regions remained the same in 2009 as they were in 2008. Figures from Florida show that 186,704 visitors arrived in 2008 and 182,281 in 2009. The numbers from Texas show that 40,097 arrived in 2008, while 42,633 came in 2009.

In laying out his defence, Bartlett in the letter sought to explain that the procedures used to award the contracts were not irregular or improper. The minister pointed to what he said was the approval of the procedure by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and the attorney general.

"Both the attorney general and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service concluded that the air service agreements did not constitute a normal procurement contract," he said in the letter. "Indeed, the letter from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, dated October 14, 2008, stated that: 'No good or service is being supplied to the government or any of its agencies. The service is being provided directly to the passengers who will stand the cost of their travel'."