Pastor to be sentenced for sexual encounters with a minor

Fifty-six year old Jamaican Pastor Kenneth Blake will be sentenced on October 18 after he pleaded guilty Monday to having sex on several occasions with a 12-year-old child more than three years ago.

The Gleaner newspaper reported that for the last two years, Blake had f denied having sex with the child, who gave birth to a boy on November 30, 2017.

The pastor of the Harvest Temple Apostolic Church has now pleaded guilty to grievous sexual assault, having sex with a person under 16 years old and sexual touching when he appeared in the Home Circuit Court in downtown Kingston.

Blake was arrested and charged in August 2017 by detectives assigned to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse and the charges were filed against him after the child gave investigators a detailed statement in which she complained that Blake had sex with her when she was 12 years old.

She said that the first sexual encounter occurred in 2015, when the pastor gave her older sister money to go downtown and “buy some things” . She said after the encounter, the pastor began giving her gifts to keep quiet about their sexual encounters.

But when she became pregnant in August 2017 she confessed to her mother, but Blake denied the accusations, even after two DNA tests found that there was a 99.9 per cent chance he could not be excluded as the father.

The second test was done at a private institution chosen by Blake after he complained that the first test, conducted at the Government Forensic Laboratory, was “tainted”.

He told the court then that the accusations were part of an extortion attempt by the child’s mother.

St. Kitts government to table marijuana use legislation

The government of St. Kitts-Nevis says it plans to table legislation in Parliament on Tuesday allowing for the regulated and controlled use of marijuana for medicinal, scientific, religious and recreational purposes in the twin island Federation.

A government statement said that Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris will table the amendments to the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

“The far-reaching legislative amendments come after the Cabinet established a National Marijuana Commission to ascertain the views of citizens and residents on cannabis use,” the statement said, noting that the consultations, which were chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hazel Laws, had “found unanimous agreements for the decriminalization of marijuana in the Federation”.

It said that the Commission had also recommended a phased approach to the establishment of a marijuana industry and that the Cabinet adopted the Commission’s report on February 18.

But it noted that since then the High Court has ruled that some prohibitions on cannabis use outlined in the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) Act, Cap 9.08, were too broad and inconsistent with the Constitution.

The statement said that the government has responded with amendments to the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

It quoted Harris as promising that his administration would give “special support and priority to locals interested in pursuing marijuana cultivation and trade within the confines of the law”.

New GECOM chair sworn in

Retired Justice Claudette Singh was sworn in as the first female chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as the country prepares to hold fresh regional and general election as mandated by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

President David Granger, whose coalition A Partnership for National unity (APNU) government was defeated in an opposition People’s progressive Party (PPP) inspired motion of no confidence last December, sworn in Justice Singh during a ceremony at the Ministry of the Residency.

President David Granger congratulating reired Justice Claudette Singh after she was sworn in as GECOM chairperson (DPI Photo)

Government ministers as well as Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo were among guests attending the ceremony that Granger described as ““a good day for the Republic of Guyana”.

He told the ceremony that he was satisfied with the criteria for appointing the new GECOM chairperson from a list of names that had been presented by Jagdeo in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution.

“That is to say, the chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or has held the office of a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth, or a Court of Appeal or any such court or qualified to be appointed as a judge,” Granger said, adding“free, fair, credible and timely elections are essential elements of a democratic state. The Elections Commission is not a plaything.

“Its independence is a condition for engendering confidence and ensuring public trust in the electoral system and for the efficient execution of elections,” Granger said, insisting that Guyana’s Constitution mandates that elections should be independently supervised.

“The Commission shall exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of elections and administering of instruction of elections for all the members of the National Assembly,” he said.

President Granger said that the latest appointment fulfils the mandate of the Constitution of Guyana and also satisfies the CCCJ, the country’s highest court.

The CCJ had earlier ruled that the appointment of retired justice, James Patterson as GECOM chairman last year, was flawed and had urged as a matter of the greatest public importance, “the President and the Leader of the Opposition should, as soon as possible, embark upon and conclude the process of appointing a new GECOM Chairman”.

Both Granger and Jagdeo had appointed teams to meet on the matter and last weekend the two political leaders agreed to the appointment of Justice Singh, who in 2017,  became one of the only three women here to be appointed Senior Counsel in history of Independent Guyana. She was called to the Bar in London in 1973 and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in 1976.

Justice Singh served as the Deputy Solicitor General and as a Puisne Judge and a Justice of Appeal. During her tenure at the Chamber of the Attorney General (AG), she spearheaded the Modernisation of the Justice Reform Project and is currently serving as the Guyana Police Force’s Legal Advisor.

After she was sworn in, Justice Singh told reporters that her decision to accept the post was dependent on the mutual agreement of both Granger and Jagdeo , vowing to execute her duties fairly and to the best of her abilities as she said she understood the challenges of the position.

“I will speak to everybody and I do not believe in people walking out when there is disagreement. I believe in sitting down hammering out whatever the problem is, not the media will try our problems”, Justice Singh said, recalling that when she served as a judge she was nicknamed “the Iron Lady”, and there will be no difference now.

Grenada wants a return of resident British High Commissioner

The Grenada government says it is looking forward to the return of resident High Commissioner to its shores following the installation newly elected UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In a diplomatic note sent to the UK Foreign Office in Castries, Acting Prime Minister Gregory Bowen congratulated Johnson, adding that his victory marked a “defining moment in history that brings with it the challenge of charting a new relationship between Europe, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean that reflects fruitious equanimity while permitting democratic self-governance at home”.

He added that he was looking forward to continued growth in the UK/Grenada relationship and the soon return of a resident High Commissioner to the island.

“As a traditional partner of the UK, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, I express the hope that our special relationship will continue to grow as manifested by the pending return of a resident commissioner to our shores and consolidate to our mutual benefit.”

Johnson, former UK Foreign Secretary won 92,153,votes which represents 66% to Jeremy Hunt’s 46,656. Voter turnout was 87.4% among 159,320 Tory party members .

Johnson is taking over the helm of the party and byextension the government from Theresa May who opted to step down after numerous unsuccessful attempts to get consensus, in the party and in Parliament, on a Brexit deal.

In his acceptance speech, Johnson promised to deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, all of which were his campaign mantra.

He says he will deliver Brexit by October 31st 2019.

Sluggish growth forecasted in the Caribbean and Latin America

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said economic prospects in the Caribbean are improving “with substantial variation across countries”.

Director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department Alejandro Werner said on Monday that “growth in tourism-dependent economies is expected to strengthen to around two per cent in 2019-20, supported by still strong United States growth, the main market for tourism in the region, and continued reconstruction from the 2017 hurricanes”. s

Alejandro Werner, speaking to reporters on Monday (CMC Photo)

In outlining the Regional Economic Outlook Update for Latin America and the Caribbean, Werner said economic activity remains sluggish and real gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow by 0.6 per cent in 2019, the slowest rate since 2016, before rising to 2.3 per cent in 2020.

He said the weak momentum reflects negative surprises in the first half of 2019, elevated domestic policy uncertainty in some large economies, heightened US-China trade tensions, and somewhat lower global growth.

With regards to the Caribbean, the IMF official told reporters that “economic prospects are generally improving, but with substantial variation across countries”.

He said with improved energy production and higher commodity prices, commodity exporting countries are expected to see some modest recovery in growth, except in Guyana, where the start of oil production in 2020 will provide a substantial boost to growth.

“More generally, regional growth continues to be impeded by lingering structural problems including high public debt, poor access to finance, high unemployment and vulnerability to commodity and climate-related shocks,” he said.

Werner said sluggish activity in Latin America and the Caribbean in the first half of this year largely reflects temporary factors, including adverse weather conditions that reduced mining output in Chile and agricultural output in Paraguay.

He said weaker global growth and lingering US-China trade tensions have also hurt the Latin America region through their impact on commodity prices and exports.

The IMF official said risks to the outlook remain tilted to the downside, including from a further escalation of US-China trade tensions, a slowdown in major economies, and tighter global financial conditions.

“The main domestic risks include a further rise in policy uncertainty, reversal of reforms, and natural disasters. Although portfolio flows were strong early this year, they declined in May-June and could decline further if downside risks were to materialize.

“Given weak growth prospects and significant downside risks, economic policies will need to strike a balance between supporting growth and rebuilding buffers.”

He said regarding policies, fiscal consolidation remains a priority in many countries in the region given high public debt levels.

“This will likely lower growth, but its contractionary effects can be mitigated by protecting public investment and well-targeted social expenditures, while raising revenue and cutting non-priority expenditure.

“In light of lower global growth and an easing bias across major advanced economy central banks, monetary policy can remain supportive of growth in the region, especially given well-anchored inflation expectations, negative output gaps, and generally subdued inflationary pressures in most countries. But efforts should continue to monitor corporate and household leverage to safeguard financial stability.”

Werner said beyond policies to support a cyclical recovery, structural reforms remain an imperative and need to be accelerated to boost potential growth.

“Such reforms should include opening the economies further to trade and foreign direct investment, an easing of regulations in product and labour markets, enhancing competition, and improving the quality of human and physical capital,” he noted.

CARICOM remains divided at OAS on Venezuela issue

Countries in the Caribbean remain divided on the way forward in dealing with the protracted political crisis in Venezuela.

At a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Tuesday, four Caribbean countries voted to “accept’ the nomination of a candidate supported by Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is seeking to replace President Nicolas Maduro as head of state in the South American country.

St. Lucia, Jamaica, Haiti and the Bahamas voted in favour of accepting Gustavo Tarre “as the National Assembly’s designated permanent representative, pending new elections and the appointment of a democratically elected government,” in Venezuela.

But Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, joined Venezuela in voting against the measure, while Barbados, Guyana, St. Kitts- Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Belize was the only CARICOM country absent when the vote was taken on Tuesday.

The OAS Permanent Council is chaired by the United States, which is at the forefront of efforts to remove Maduro, who was sworn into office for a second consecutive term earlier this year, from power.

The four CARICOM countries that voted in favour of the resolution have supported the so-called Lima Group that is seeking Maduro’s removal and last month met with United States President Donald Trump on Venezuela.

CARICOM has adopted a united position on the Venezuelan matter and in February, the regional leaders at their inter-sessional summit in St. Kitts-Nevis reiterated their position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and said they were prepared to mediate in the process to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The vote at the OAS came on the same day that the St. Lucia government said that it was re-affirming its position that the Caribbean must remain a zone of peace and that there should be “no third state intervention” in Caracas.

Sir Neville Cenac, Governor General St. Lucia

Governor General, Sir Neville Cenac, delivering the traditional Throne speech at the start of a new parliamentary session in St. Lucia, in which he outlined the government’s priorities, said that in the case of Venezuela, “we have reaffirmed that the Caribbean must remain a zone of peace, consistent with the provisions of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, endorsed by all 33 Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  “We are unequivocal in our view that there should be no third state intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela and will continue to resist any action that could jeopardize the peace, safety or security of the Caribbean region,” Sir Neville told legislators.

The Governor General also said that in July, St. Lucia will assume the chairmanship of the 15-member CARICOM grouping, adding “notwithstanding the matters that divide us, we must continue to deepen the integration movement to the benefit of all member states.

“We must take concerted action to combat climate change, we must find common creative ways to resist efforts to undermine our economic bases.  Above all, we must identify the means of pursuing individual developmental interests without rending asunder the ties that bind us as a region,” the Head of State told legislators.

LIAT cancels flights for “operational reasons”

Regional airline LIAT cancelled several flights on Thursday citing “operational reasons”.

The cash-strapped airline did not elaborate on the “operational reasons” but had recently warned several regional destinations that they had until March 15, to respond to the airline’s minimal revenue guarantee (MRG) proposals.

Under and MRG model, it is likely that a few flights may be cut if the government is not prepared to fund them with a guarantee with St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves indicating that theoretically, several countries have no quarrel with the MRG.

The airline said that it was cancelling flights LI 374 from Barbados to St. Lucia; LI 375 from St. Lucia to Barbados; LI 337 from Barbados to Grenada; LI 338 from Grenada to Barbados; LI 769 from Barbados to St. Vincent and LI 770 from St. Vincent to Barbados.

“Affected passengers will be moved to other flights at no charge. Please contact our Reservations Call Centre or your travel agent for more information,” LIAT said in a brief statement posted on its Facebook page.

The announcement coincides with a meeting held in Barbados on Wednesday attended by Gonsalves and host Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Media reports said that the final decision on the future of the LIAT is expected later this week following the eight hour meeting that was attended by trade union representatives.

The reports said that officials have been asked to come up with a number of proposals to present to Mottley before weekend.

“A number of positions were explored and those present are to now get back to the governments later this week regarding the positions that were tabled,” the Nation newspaper Thursday quoted a  source close to the negotiations as saying.

Last week, the airline shareholders governments – Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – said they were seeking to get Caribbean countries to contribute a total of US$5.4 million in emergency funding needed to keep the airline in the sky.

The pilots have already rejected a call from them to take a salary cut as the Antigua-based airline seeks to reverse its financial situation.

“Looking at the situation as it is right now, if we are to go forward doing the things that we are doing now, if we do not look at the scheduling, if we do not look at how we are going to generate the revenue going forward, we can give up 10 per cent now and we have no idea when the company will rebound for us to recoup that investment or even for them to start paying the staff back,” President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIAPA), Carl Burke said.

Last week, as she delivered her country’s national budget, Prime Minister Mottley told legislators the core elements of a new, sustainable model for the regional airline were already clear and that the restructuring is expected to dramatically cut the airline’s cost to the local taxpayer.

She acknowledged that LIAT is a tough issue to crack and that there are “more government shareholders in LIAT than in any airline in the world”.