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Bartlett defends AA deal

Published:Monday | March 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

GOVERNMENT MINISTER Edmund Bartlett yesterday mounted a staunch defence of a controversial American Airlines accord and charged that he has never misled the Cabinet or Parliament during his 25 years in public life.

Speaking during a Jamaica Labour Party Area Council One meeting in Duhaney Park, St Andrew, the tourism minister said his decision to engage American Airlines to guarantee airlift into Jamaica was done in good faith.

He also threw thinly veiled jabs at Contractor General Greg Christie among shouts from his audience that he owed them no apology.

"We are not going to be unkind or disrespectful of anybody. We respect the institutions of our country and we respect the persons who are responsible to ensure that those institutions are kept at the highest level in the land," Bartlett said, with a hint of disdain.

"Everybody has a job to do, do it and do it well," he added.

Christie's accusation

Earlier this month, Christie, in a special report to Parliament, said Bartlett, as well as Director of Tourism John Lynch, and executive director of Jamaica Vacations Ltd, Lionel Reid, signed three agreements with AA and committed the Government and taxpayers of Jamaica to a debt of more than $400 million without first submitting the matter for consideration and approval.

Christie also said Bartlett misled Parliament about the deal. However, yesterday Bartlett said he was innocent of the charge.

"I could not deliberately and maliciously mislead on a matter that is of such great importance to the economic development of the country," Bartlett said. He, however, said he was not going to say "a wry word about it".

According to the tourism minister, "It is not going to be possible in life for everything to happen without an issue.

"When the issues come, it is fair, if we are honest about it and we speak the truth and not try to cast aspersions which demean the character and integrity of honest and upright people," he said.

"Somewhere along the line, somebody has to protect somebody from those kinds of things."

Throwback to heathrow

Meanwhile, the East Central St James member of parliament, who drew a parallel between the American Airlines deal and the divestment of Heathrow slots under the watch of former Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies, said no personal benefit was derived from the deal.

He said it was strange that there was little talk about the divestment of the Heathrow slot, considering that no flights currently leave those slots to Jamaica. Davies has said the divestment of the slots helped to reduce costs to Government, as they were unprofitable.

"The man who buy it didn't bring people to Jamaica from those prestigious slots. Him snub us," said Bartlett, alluding to Virgin Atlantic Airways boss, Sir Richard Branson.

"Him literally kick us in the face and use our slots to carry people to Barbados and not Jamaica."