Fri | Nov 27, 2020

Vaz stripped of land, enviro portfolio

Published:Thursday | June 25, 2020 | 12:39 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Daryl Vaz has been reassigned from the land and environment portfolio days after a controversial prospective land deal fell through.
Daryl Vaz has been reassigned from the land and environment portfolio days after a controversial prospective land deal fell through.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ decision to strip Portland West Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz of the land, environment, and climate-change portfolio has been lauded by a leading environmentalist and public commentator.

But Peter Espeut does not believe the decision goes far enough.

Vaz was reassigned days after an Observer report revealed a controversial bid by the minister to obtain a 25-year lease that would have allowed him to construct a private cabin on protected lands within the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site.

The cabin was earmarked for use in the lucrative Airbnb sector. The cost of the lease was $120,000 per annum.

Jamaica House announced on Tuesday evening that newly appointed Minister without Portfolio Leslie Campbell would be assigned to Vaz’s erstwhile duties. Vaz has been given responsibility for the water and housing portfolios and “special economic-development projects”.

Espeut believes, however, that Holness could not have sidelined Vaz because he is a major fundraiser for the ruling party, which has one eye on a general election expected to be called well before its 2021 due date.

“The prime minister could not alienate Vaz at a time like this. Not when you need him to call around to the captains of industry to get the millions that the Jamaica Labour Partly needs to run their campaign,” said Espeut.

“So maybe it would be unreasonable for me expect him to publicly castigate the man who is the lynch pin for his next election victory.”

Vaz withdrew his bid, but he did not escape criticism that he betrayed the optics of transparency and engaged in a conflict of interest. He subsequently accused the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), managers of the heritage site, of being hypocrites.

However, the JCDT said that Vaz’s cabin plan was for private gain, while their holdings were to part-fund management of the lands.

Espeut still believes that Vaz got off without public sanction.

“I am not happy that the prime minister has not castigated him in public for what he did, which was scandalous,” he said.