Jamaica: Vote-buying allegations in East Portland by-election

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

(Jamaica Observer) Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday said payments from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) have been discontinued in the wake of accusation from the Opposition People’s National Party that State resources were being used to “buy votes” ahead of the April 4 by-election in Portland Eastern.

Holness was responding to journalists outside the Port Antonio Court house in Portland following the nomination of his party’s candidate Ann Marie Vaz.

“I’ve read the letters from the leader of the Opposition, and I’ve read the letter from the political ombudsman. I have gone through and asked all the agencies whether or not they have made allocations or made payments. So far what I’ve been told is that no allocations have been made, other than what was made previously… before the campaign, and that whatever was in train was stopped,” said Holness.

“I spoke to the head of the CDF yesterday (Thursday) [and] she explained to me that she sent out a letter stopping all payments, and I suspect that all other agencies will be doing that,” he added.

The PNP has accused the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government of engaging in what it called a “carnival of spending (of) public resources to influence the upcoming by-election” in Portland Eastern.

The PNP urged the political ombudsman, the National Integrity Commission, the National Integrity Action, as well as the leading private sector groups to closely monitor the situation in the constituency.

Holness, however, blasted the Opposition party, stating that its pronouncements are simply “untrue”.

The prime minister said, while he is in total agreement that State resources should not be used to influence an election, it is not absolute as to whether projects in train should be stopped or not.

“It is debatable. So far we have been very scrupulous in how we have operated. For example, if it were a major road project, I would not be in favour of stopping it. If it’s bushing work and so forth, well, fine, but I feel there is a level of hypocrisy in the way in which the PNP is trying to use this idea of vote-buying or influencing [with] State resources in a most untrue way,” Holness said.

“The truth is that you will recall several elections ago the then general secretary of the PNP openly admitted that there was significant vote-buying in the election in Westmoreland. Where was the Office of the Ombudsman then in speaking out on these things? You remembered in North East St Ann, where the people were threatened that if they voted for the JLP then they would ‘suck salt through wooden spoon’. So I think there is a level of hypocrisy, and that the people need to be reminded,” he added.

At the same time, he said that this does not excuse the issue, however, and he wants to “assure the Jamaica people that we are not using State resources to influence an election outcome”.

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