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'No standard was in place for signing off on AA deal'

Published:Friday | March 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

The Gleaner has obtained correspondence confirming Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett's claim that he had received the go-ahead from the attorney general's chamber to sign off on the airlift guarantee agreement with American Airlines.

"The procurement handbook did not contemplate the type of contract entered into between Jamaica Vacations Limited (JAMVAC) and America Airlines and so JAMVAC is not bound to follow any specific procedure in the award of the contract to American Airlines," stated the attorney general's correspondence, which was dispatched to the tourism minister.

The correspondence, dated December 2008, suggests it is not likely that Bartlett intentionally circumvented Cabinet, contrary to claims made by the Contractor General Greg Christie as the agreement was signed in October 2009.

"Guidance was being painstakingly sought," declared Bartlett. "We went through a long a tedious process before we formalised the arrangement."

Completed meetings

The minister told The Gleaner on Wednesday that he has completed his meetings with Prime Minister Bruce Golding on the issue and was awaiting a decision.

"Yes, I have met with the prime minister and responded to all his queries," Bartlett said in response to Gleaner questions.

"I sought to prove that in no instance was there premeditated or malicious intent to mislead either the Cabinet or anyone, as there was absolutely nothing to be gained either personal or otherwise from such an action," Bartlett added.

He described as unfortunate Christie's depiction of what transpired, which he said has not only sullied the reputation of well-intentioned public servants, but was likely to damage the sector.

"John Lynch and Lionel Reid are two of the outstanding professionals in the tourist industry globally."

He said Lynch's pre-eminence as a tourism marketer is unmatched in the region and Jamaica's growth in tourism is credited largely to his superior marketing skills.

"It is imperative that fair and honest account of his action of the tourism team be made at all times as this could have implications for the future beneficial arrangements," Bartlett said.

Due haste necessary

Despite the long processes which he said were pursued to get everything right, Bartlett said due haste was necessary as the airline industry was operating in turbulent times and Jamaica was likely to be a casualty if quick action was not taken.

"We must recall that American Airlines had announced that it was adjusting routes after it disclosed that it would be discontinuing most of its flights to the Eastern Caribbean in the Puerto Rico hub," he said.

"They further advised us that they would be reducing their capacities out of New York, Miami as well as withdrawal of the Dallas route."

Bartlett told The Gleaner that as minister of tourism, he could not sit by and allow Jamaica to suffer.

"Contrary to what has been alleged, we saw an opportunity to ensure that losses to other sections of the Caribbean were not repeated in Jamaica."

Bartlett stressed that there was a protocol of engagement for revenue guarantee and other such flight arrangements which render it difficult for public acknowledgement of an unsolicited offer by an airline.

"The matter of the minister misleading Cabinet by indicating that the offer was unsolicited does not hold up," Bartlett declared.