Party promoters lash Government over Mocha Fest mess

LOCAL party promoters lashed out at the Government on Thursday for failing to stop the staging of Mocha Fest, a series of parties hosted in Negril last week, which has since ended in controversy.

The festival, which began on Monday, came to an abrupt end Thursday after widely circulated videos of scores of partygoers drew the ire of locals who have been on lockdown since March 2020 when the first case of COVID-19 was recorded on the island.

The event, which catered to tourists only, was held at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Westmoreland, which forms part of the resilient corridor.

The corridor stretches from that point to Portland and is a space within which tourists are allowed to move freely.

The Government and Government-run agencies within the tourism sector have denied knowledge of the festival, but local entertainers and party promoters who have been on a 15-month party ban levelled criticisms at the authorities, insisting that an event so widely promoted was no secret to them.

Mocha Festival was advertised on the Jamaica Tourist Board’s website months in advance despite restrictive COVID-19 protocols set to reduce the country’s infection rate.

“It’s been terrible [for us] just for the mere fact that for some of us who are privileged enough we have other sources of income or some of our skills are transferable. But, for many in the industry, their skills aren’t transferable. So they literally have to find whatever work they can get. Some deejays have to sell their sound equipment to pay for rent,” Communications director for Strictly2K Entertainment Ibrahim Konteh told the Jamaica Observer last week, adding that the Government is yet to provide stakeholders in the sector estimated to have lost millions with a stimulus package.

“So then now to see that foreign promoters can come to Jamaica and have a week of events where they are even saying, ‘Oh, we’re sorry. Locals are not allowed’. It’s not even a slap in the face, it’s a foot in the face. We feel deflated. Why are we second-class citizens in our own country? My issue is not with Rick’s Cafe or the organisers of Mocha Fest. The event was on the Jamaica Tourist Board’s website. It’s the fact that they have clearly found a way to reopen the entertainment sector in the country but have failed to offer this solution to the very citizens?” Konteh argued.

“We are saying level the playing field,” he added.

The JBT has insisted that no permission was given for Rick’s Cafe to host the event and said that the popular spot in western Jamaica will be sanctioned.

The establishment has since tendered a public apology in which it said it breached the Government’s COVID-19 protocols.

It has been slapped with a seven-day closure sanction as investigations continue into the matter, according to Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie.

The Tourism Product Development Company Ltd has also revoked the entity’s COVID-19 compliance certification with immediate effect due to the violation.

But local promoters believe that the approach taken by the Government, since public outcry, is a “smokescreen”.

“It’s the double standard that annoys us. We don’t have an issue with Mocha Fest; we don’t have an issue with their venues. What we have an issue with is the fact that they could find a way to make Mocha Fest happen — because they sanctioned it even though they are now saying otherwise and trying to distance themselves from it — but we are left to sit and do nothing while they ignore us and the local entertainment sector,” Fabian O’Hara insisted while speaking with the Sunday Observer.

“We have not been given a chance to present our ideas about how we can safely reopen the industry. They have not asked us what are some of the plans we have in mind? They have done nothing. It has just been business as usual for us while every other sector is being opened. Entertainment is I guess the black sheep in all of this because no one is entertaining us from the Government side. So, we’re just here,” he added.

O’Hara, who hosts Marco Polo, 876 and 90s Recall, said that he has had to pivot by returning to a nine-to-five job.

He pointed to other promoters who have taken their events to the United States, bringing the economic earnings from events to that shore.

“So everybody gone a New York, Florida and Atlanta while others like myself are just here waiting and holding out for word from them. We are not hearing anything at all about the entertainment industry,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday said that he has asked for an investigation to be conducted into the staging of Mocha Fest.

He was speaking during a ceremony to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the birth of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga with a floral tribute at the National Heroes’ Park.

“There is a particular situation that has come on our radar this morning. One that I must pay careful attention to because it throws up something that we are always contending with marked in our society — the unequalness of the society, the haves and the have nots. Why is it that some people are allowed to party and others are not? The unequal nature of the society,” Holness said.

“This Government has a duty to ensure that the law is equally applied, both to those who have not and those who have. So read from my statement what you will, Government will have to ensure that it was not complicit in any breach of its own law and I have asked for a report and my own investigations will be conducted,” he continued.

The prime minister further noted that various arms of the State have a duty to ensure the equal application of the law and said that he is expecting that they will move in that direction to ensure that if there is any breach, that the full application of the law will be guaranteed.

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