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Jamaica: Opposition leader warns of “dangerous precedent”

By CMC

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Peter Phillips

(CMC) – Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips has warned of a “dangerous precedent” being set as Jamaica moves to table legislation to forcibly re-take the 49 per cent shares by Venezuela’s PDV Caribe in the state-owned oil company, Petrojam.

PDV Caribe, an affiliate of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), entered into a joint-venture agreement which resulted in the sale of PetroJam shares in August 2006 and February 2007, respectively.

The agreement had called for the upgrading and expansion of the refinery to improve its competitiveness and meet local and international market demands, but Johnson Smith said these objectives were not met and that this poses a risk to the economy.

Last week, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith defended Kingston’s position saying “it will not be a general piece of legislation which allows for acquisition of property rights, other than land, beyond the scope of the transfer of ownership of the 49 per cent shares in PetroJam currently held by PDV Caribe”.

But speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Phillips condemned the move, telling legislators “the fact is we have never expropriated the property of any investor in Jamaica before”.

“It is a dangerous precedent for us to set and indeed it is premature because the joint venture which exists between Petrojam and PDVSA provides for mediation and arbitration, and even outside of that the government could have used the good offices of friendly states to seek an amicable solution before indicating this extreme measure of expropriation,” he added.

He told Parliament that the action by the Andrew Holness government brings into question the timing of the Petrojam shares buy-back announcement.

“The question is: why choose to announc,  when the legislation isn’t even ready, and when the committee which has been set up to look at the financial viability of Petrojam isn’t due to report until May? One is left to draw the conclusion that the timing had to do with a decision that had been taken to vote in the OAS not to recognise the Maduro regime. That also was ill-advised,” he said.

Jamaica along with Haiti, the Bahamas, Guyana and St. Lucia supported the Organization of American States resolution last week in not recognising the second five-year term of President Nicaols Maduro, while Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname voted against the measure.

St. Kitts-Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Belize abstained during the vote earlier this week, while Grenada was not present when the matter was put to the vote.

The government has insisted that it was under no pressure from the United States or any other country to vote in support of the resolution that was passed on the same day that Maduro was sworn into office.

Phillips said that Jamaica has enjoyed long relations with many countries whose internal affairs it does not support.

“We recognise North Korea, we recognise Cuba, we recognise China…We don’t have to be coy about the fact that there are many things that are wrong in Venezuela, but Venezuela deserves to be treated with respect as a sovereign country.

“If we don’t behave honourably towards our friends we soon will have no friends. Between 2010 and 2013 when no other state would provide any financial support for Jamaica, the Maduro government was the only state that enabled us to survive when oil was selling for US$140 per barrel,” he added.

But Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte said the content of the resolution was consistent with a resolution adopted by the OAS General Assembly in June 2018.

“On that occasion the Government of Jamaica, in supporting the resolution, acknowledged that the fundamental values and principles including maintenance of the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy as well as non-intervention in the internal affairs of states remained pertinent considerations…for us our interest has always [been] and continues to be that of the well-being of the people of Venezuela,” she said.

Regarding the decision to retake the shares, Forte repeated the government’s position that the decision to retake the shares was done in the national interest, even as she hinted that the government remains open to an amicable solution.

“We expect to table the bill at the next sitting of the House,” she told legislators.

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