‘Bad mind!’ - St Ann’s Bay mayor blasts critics of COVID spend, Porsche charging station
ST ANN’S Bay Mayor Michael Belnavis has labelled as “bad-mind” detractors who have mounted a withering campaign against him since news broke of the reported $46m COVID-19 expenditure on sanitising the town of Ocho Rios and the $80,000 charging port installed at the municipal office to charge his Porsche motor car.
At a press conference at the mayor’s office on Tuesday, Belnavis also hit out at Opposition Spokesman on Local Government and Community Development Natalie Neita, charging that she was ignorant of municipal legislation. The embattled Ocho Rios division councillor and chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation has threatened legal action, claiming he was libelled by Neita’s utterances.
Belnavis tried to distance himself from the multimillion-dollar controversy, claiming that he was not part of the procurement process and had no details on the matter.
But he said that since controversy erupted over the project bill, he and chief executive officer of the corporation, Rovel Morris, decided to withhold payment for the project until the matter is fully investigated.
Morris is reportedly on leave after appearing at a parliamentary committee last week to answer questions relating to the two issues.
Belnavis made it clear yesterday that he believed that there were sinister motives at play behind the public backlash.
“I believe there is a little bad mind there. When I spoke to the minority leader in the council, I said, ‘You’re being bad-mind about this particular one and you guys have a history of being bad-mind.”
He added: “The the politicians have really turned the wheels on that particular one because this release from Natalie Neita is erroneous,” he said, indicating that her accusations were not factual.
Belnavis has faced public criticism following the disclosure at a parliamentary committee that a charging station was erected at taxpayers’ expense at the St Ann Municipal Corporation. The charging station has since been removed.
But the mayor said that after the corporation failed to give him a vehicle last year, he paid about $12 million for the 2019 Cayenne e-Hybrid car to replace his BMW X6.
He insists that he did nothing wrong, arguing, in fact, that he had saved the municipality expenses by using his own vehicle in pursuit of public work.
“There is nothing illegal about it, and I believe that I was doing something to essentially make the efficiencies of that particular situation, but social media has taken on the other side of the story,” Belnavis said yesterday.
However, he conceded that his action was “immoral”.
Pressed by journalists about the reported spend on sanitisation work throughout the St Ann capital, Belnavis was unable to provide answers to questions posed by the reporters.
“I don’t know the details,” he said, directing reporters to check with the municipal corporation’s Procurement Department.
“It (the $46m) was sent down from TEF (Tourism Enhancement Fund), and once they sent it down, I was so happy, I jumped the gun,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure that Ocho Rios was safe.”
St Ann has recorded 12 of Jamaica’s 605 coronavirus cases.
Belnavis reluctantly conceded that the reported expenditure may have seemed high, but argued that the scale of the project was expansive.
“There were 10 or 12 areas, including the pier, the market, the shopping centres, Main Street, the parks, the centres, all over. Fisherman’s beach, fisherman’s areas, a lot of areas were done ... .”
“It is now up to the various agencies that are there, the audit department, and so on, to tell you if value for money was there.”
Belnavis said that he would await the results of a probe.
“Let the investigation take its course and the chips fall where they may. I don’t want to be seen as tampering with the process,” he said.