PM justifies Dean Jonas’ reinstatement to Cabinet

By Carlena Knight, Antigua Observer,

Following the reinstatement of the Member of Parliament (MP) for St George as a Cabinet minister last week, the public has been questioning what prompted the decision since the matter of another embattled MP remains unresolved.

Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), D Gisele Isaac publicly voiced her thoughts on the motives of the Gaston Browne-led administration to reinstate Dean Jonas, but not the St Peter MP, Asot Michael.

“Here you have an MP whose tenure in the House goes back way beyond Dean Jonas’s, and who was questioned in the UK. He was not arrested. He was not charged, and on the trend of being questioned, you defrock him and here you have another MP accused by you, the Prime Minister. You detailed the public of the sins that he is alleged to have committed — no inquiry, and if there’s an inquiry certainly no report. You said [Jonas] was gone for six months but six months has not been exhausted yet but you bring him back and MP Asot Michael is still out in the cold.

“How does anybody square that? How do the supporters of the Labour Party square that? How do the constituents of St Peter feel about the fact that this man who has represented them in government since eons ago, now can be left out while somebody who has been publicly shamed [and] castigated in the parliament even after he begged pardon, is back in?” Isaac queried.

Michael resigned from his portfolio as Tourism and Investment minister in 2018 after allegations surfaced that he was involved in a major bribery scandal in the UK.

Prime Minister Browne would have requested Michael’s resignation, while Jonas, in January of this year, was relieved of his portfolio and given a six-month suspension after allegations surfaced that, as the agriculture minister, he was conducting illegal contractual agreements, but he was reinstated four months later.

However, Browne sought to clear the air on this latest development and the issue surrounding MP Michael.

“Minister Michael has certain allegations against him by the British government and until such time till he is cleared, I don’t see how anyone can reasonably expect me to reappoint him as a minister. I don’t see how former minister Michael could reasonably expect me to considerably reappoint him unless he is cleared. He has legal issues to address and the fact that I disappointed him should not suggest that I am presiding over his guilt or innocence. It is just part of the government’s framework that if you have those type of allegations against you and that a foreign government is pursuing you vigorously then what is it, they expect us to do?” Browne asked.

He also explained why he brought Jonas back, two months shy of the end of the six-month suspension .

“I thought it was a good time to bring him in so that he can have a level of preparedness when it comes to disaster preparedness and disaster management. Recognizing that we are going into the hurricane season, I didn’t want a situation that when he comes in in July/August and then he’s in the middle of a storm. That’s why I brought him in before the six months would have expired to make sure that he can build some quick capacity and so that he can be in a position to preside over any form of potential disaster from hurricanes and to ensure that we are in a state of readiness .

“And I have to say that the focus I am seeing now having spoken to him, I think he will be better positioned now to serve his constituents. They may find him to be more responsive,” Browne said.

But both Dr David Hinds, professor of African and Caribbean Studies at the Arizona State University and Isaac believe that there may be more to gain other than ministerial preparedness as to why Jonas was brought back into the fold.

Hinds suggested that it may be a case of political calculation on the prime minister’s part, while Isaac pointed to the electoral value of Jonas as to why he was welcomed back.

“As somebody rightly said on the radio, he brought in the most votes for the government side last election. He is the representative of a very large constituency, so I think he has been brought back more for his electoral value rather than anything [or] expecting him to do better or even to do well. And here we are with him presiding over a portfolio called the Blue Economy, that 99 percent of the population will say, ‘Blue Economy? Ah wha dat?”

Meantime, Isaac is also calling on the prime Minister to clear the air on the various allegations that had been levelled against Jonas.

Minister Jonas was also accorded the Social Transformation portfolio.

Photo: Swearing-in ceremony for Minister of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy, Dean Jonas

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