Continue to report illegal events, minister urges Jamaicans

LOCAL Government Minister Desmond McKenzie yesterday urged Jamaicans to continue to blowing the whistle on entities conducting illegal events in breach of COVID-19 restrictions, declaring that the Government will not be playing favourites.

“I want to continue to ask the public to continue to support our efforts by providing information on illegal activities. I want to give the country the assurance that the Government will continue to act in a balanced way and that we are at no time exercising or demonstrating any preferred treatment to any sector of the society,” McKenzie said yesterday.

His comments come in the wake of a firestorm of events triggered by social media postings last month end which revealed large crowds of people, not wearing face masks, partying at the famed Mocha Fest party at entertainment venue Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Westmoreland.

The caf was ordered closed for seven days on Friday, May 28 after hosting the event which had Jamaicans up in arms and accusing the authorities of double standards in allowing the staging of entertainment events in breach of COVID-19 regulations. The Tourism Product Development Company Ltd (TPDCo) also withdrew its COVID-19 compliance certification with immediate effect, noting that it would have to undergo a recertification exercise to ensure strict adherence to the established COVID-19 health and safety protocols before it can be allowed to accept visitors again.

Speaking at yesterday’s virtual post-Cabinet press briefing from Jamaica House in St Andrew, McKenzie said while the location is now back in operation “other actions have been taken against the management”. He noted that a report on the incident prepared by the Ministry of Local Government and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management will be presented to Prime Minister Andrew Holness next week.

“I can’t speak for my colleague minister in short order, a report of the incident that took place at Rick’s Cafe,” McKenzie said.

“I want to make the point that what took place in terms of managing the incident at Rick’s Cafe was just one portion of the measures that the Government has when anyone, individuals or establishments, violate the protocols. I would like to also advise the country that other actions have been taken against the management of Rick’s Cafe.

Said McKenzie: “There have been questions as to whether or not the police have intervened in this matter and I can say with certainty that charges have been brought following investigations and question and answer sessions with the management of Rick’s Cafe, along with their attorneys, and that charges were laid yesterday (Tuesday) against individuals associated with Rick’s Cafe.

“I want to give the country the assurance that the Government is acting in the best interest of the people of Jamaica.”

In the meantime, he said investigations stemming from the incident had revealed that Rick’s Cafe had been operating without a place of amusement licence, which is a requirement for them to operate. He said this has since been rectified.

“They were in compliance with the certification from the Jamaica Fire Brigade and from the public health body in Westmoreland. We extended the closure of Rick’s Cafe for another four days and advised them that it is important that they obtain the necessary licence in terms of the amusement licence. They applied to the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation…and obtained the licence and, therefore, the decision was taken to reopen the establishment,” McKenzie told members of the media.

He said the authorities will shortly be meeting with the operators of another entity in Negril, which he declined to name, to “deal with certain issues which we believe are in violation of the disaster protocol”.

“We have been using the same protocol since March last year to ensure that we gain compliance under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) and we will continue to exercise those powers under the DRMA. When offences are committed we would close the establishment,” McKenzie stated.

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