‘Mayor Thomas too political’
WHAT STARTED as an initiative to bring fresh, affordable agriculture produce to residents of the Portmore municipality, who were under a government-imposed, parish-wide lockdown of St Catherine to cauterise the spread of COVID-19, descended into a stand-off over political turf between two members of the ruling Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and its parliamentary Opposition People’s National Party.
Robert ‘Big Rob’ Miller, senior adviser to J.C. Hutchinson, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, fired back at Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas, accusing him of embarking on “a frolic of his own”, while depriving his constituents of well-need agricultural produce.
Miller, who is slated to run against Opposition Member of Parliament for South East St Catherine, Colin Fagan, in the next general election due next year, accused the head of the Portmore municipality of being disingenuous and charged that he was guilty of sabotaging the initiative started by the JLP administration.
Miller, however, took full responsibility for what he deemed an error by a member of his team, who used his name and the logo of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in a marketing flyer.
“Somebody in my team made a mistake and used the RADA flyer and put my name and their name on it and post it on social media. I accept that mistake because I am the adviser with oversight for RADA. RADA has nothing to do with it. When I looked on Facebook and I saw it, I called the person and told them to pull it, but already 56 persons had shared it,” he explained.
Miller said the initiative to get food into Portmore was part of a national effort by the agriculture ministry to help farmers sell the excess produce they had as a result of the nationwide closure of hotels, restaurants, cookshops, and limited offerings from fast-food outlets.
He said he came up with the idea weeks ago, but could not get an adequate supply of produce to make the venture worthwhile until two Tuesdays ago, hence him turning up in the municipality the following day. He sought and got the assistance and approval of the various citizens’ associations that were instrumental in its implementation, which were eventually thwarted by Mayor Thomas, the JLP caretaker said, resulting in significant spoilage of the vegetables, fruits and ground provisions.
The decision was taken to use community centres as the points of sale because they were equipped with infrastructure such as washrooms and restrooms, which would be critical to promoting social distancing, which was done by ensuring that no more than five customers were inside at any given time.
The move by Thomas to shut down the markets, and subsequent directive to the Jamaica Constabulary Force not to allow the market trucks he sent into Portmore on April 25, was what accounted for the mayhem on that day, according to Miller.
“The mayor is too political and is depriving people of getting the basic necessity of life, which is food,” Miller said.