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.

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.

T&T Prime Minister not perturbed by lack of invitation to US President’s residence

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley
Dr. Keith Rowley, Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has brushed aside suggestions that Port of Spain had been snubbed by United States President Donald Trump who is expected to meet with selective CARICOM leaders on the Venezuela issue in Miami on Friday.

At a post cabinet brief on Thursday, Rowley told the media that he does not feel diminshed in anyway, having not been invited to the private residence of US President Trump.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have never stood taller, we have never stood prouder and as I speak to you now CARICOM’s position as reaffirmed in the last meeting of heads in St. Kitts-Nevis is that there are three people representing and authorised to represent CARICOM outside of its heads and caucus and that’s the Chairman of CARICOM, who is the Prime Minister of St. Kitts-Nevis (Dr. Timothy Harris) Trinidad and Tobago its prime minister or designate and Barbados through its prime minister or designate.”

Prime Ministers Allen Chastanet (St. Lucia), Hubert Minnis ( the Bahamas), Andrew Holness (Jamaica) and Jovenel Moise (Haiti) are scheduled to meet with Trump at his private residence in Miami on Friday.

This private meeting comes after their countries, in January, supported a resolution at the Organization of American States (OAS) in not recognizing President Nicolas Maduro’s second five-year term.

But CARICOM leaders at their inter-sessional summit in St. Kitts-Nevis last month 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 where Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó with the support of Washington and its allies, is seeking to replace Maduro, who was sworn into office for a second consecutive term in January.

In late January, regional leaders, led by Harris and including Mottley and Rowley met with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, expressing optimism that the UN will assist in establishing the road map towards peace and security for Venezuela.

The delegation also participated in a meeting in an international meeting in Uruguay where the Montevideo Mechanism was adopted saying it presents “the only objective mechanism” to address the complex political situation in Venezuela”.

Rowley reiterated the CARICOM position on wanting a peaceful solution in Venezuela, and described the meeting taking place with Trump on Friday as a “meeting of the Lima Group” to which the Caribbean islands invited are members.

“We from early, St. Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we did not sign on to the Lima Group. So we are not reacting to an invitation to a man’s house.

“Our foreign policy has always given us an insight of the road ahead. So what you seeing there is a meeting of the Lima Group people at the private residence of the president.”

“We can’t stay outside and say we should have been invited. Since when we measuring our stature and our station by who invite us to their house. We are not about that,” he said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago is about the principles as outlined in the United Nations Charter of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries and ensuring a peaceful global environment.

Dr. Keith Rowley at Thursday post-Cabinet media brief

Rowley pointed out that the leaders who will be meeting Trump on Friday are “the ones who have agreed to be a part of the Lima Group” whose sole objective he says “is regime change in Venezuela”.

Rowley said the four CARICOM leaders will decide for themselves how they will achieve the change they are looking for in Venezuela, but remained adamant that Trinidad and Tobago will “stand with the principles of the United Nations where we all have signed on and accept as the best way for peace and security, not only in our region, but the world”.

Rowley, who read a lengthy statement highlighting the Charter of the United Nations, said that he could not say whether the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat had been informed of the meeting with the selective regional leaders, telling reporters, however that the Secretariat “is constantly in communication with us.

“The last and the standing decision of CARICOM was that the team as put by the caucus to deal with the Venezuelan matter from a diplomatic standpoint …was the chairman, St. Kitts-Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. That is the standing CARICOM position”.

“So any action of and member of CARICOM acting in their own sovereignty that’s what it is”.

Jamaica Public Service gets largest slice of budget pie

Dr. Nigel Clarke, Finance Minister, Jamaica

Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke presented a J$803bilion budget to the parliament on Thursday announcing a J$385.6 recurrent expenditure allocation for the Ministry of Finance and Public Service. This represents over to 58 per cent of the total budget.

The next biggest allocation of J$109.4b representing 16 per cent, went to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information which also received a capital expenditure budget of J$5.7b.

Recurrent Expenditure – Jamaica Budgetary Allocations, 2019/2020 Fiscal Year

National Security received J$72.4b recurrent and J$20.2b which represents the largest portion of the capital expenditure budget (34%).

Clarke said the budgetary allocation for national security reflects the level of priority government places on improving security for the citizens of Jamaica.

“Mr. Speaker the dedication of significant resources to national security arises out of the Government’s conviction that the high incidence of violent crime is a significant source of inequity in Jamaica.

“Jamaicans, who live in areas subject to consistent violence, or under the control of organized crime, are denied an equal chance at life. Due to the restricting nature of pervasive violent crime, they are victims of unequal access to services and unequal opportunities in the work place.

“If we care about equity and justice we must care about national security not for some, but for all,” the Finance Minister said.

Capital Expenditure – Jamaica Budgetary Allocations, 2019/2020 Fiscal Year

In what was his maiden presentation Clarke told legislators that though Jamaica was one of the most indebted countries of the world, it is now has a positive fiscal trajectory and has become “a shining example to the world of what can be achieved when there is unity of purpose.”

He said when the current fiscal year ends on March 31, Jamaica’s debt-to-GDP ratio will be near 96 per cent, the lowest debt level for Jamaica, in nearly two decades; and it will be the first time below the 100 per cent for the same period.

Clarke boasted of the country being close to completing its engagements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after entering into a precautionary arrangement with the fund almost three years ago.

“What started as an IMF programme became Jamaica’s programme with IMF support,” Clarke told legislators.

“The Andrew Holness Government terminated the US$930m Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the IMF, six months into office which was also six months before the maturity of the EFF.

“With the EFF, Jamaica borrowed money from the IMF. In its place Jamaica entered into a larger US$1.6 billion Precautionary Standby Arrangement.

“We are now 2 and a half years into this Precautionary Standby Facility, with 6 months to go and Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that…so far….Jamaica has had no need to draw down on and borrow funds from the IMF.”

The Finance Minister also reported that the country has had low, stable inflation for four years with domestic interest rates at levels that never before seen in the country.

“The Central Bank has lowered the policy rate four times this fiscal year to a record low of 1.5 per cent in February 2019.

Market interest rates for individuals and businesses have never been lower. Many individuals and businesses are now able to access single digit interest rates on Jamaican dollar loans, something that would have been deemed unattainable, unthinkable a few years ago,” Clarke told legislators.

In his presentation titled “Growth with Equity” Clarke also outlined plans to remove some taxes and a reduction on others.

The  minimum business tax of J$60,00 dollars will be abolished as of April 1, while taxes on property transfers, student loans and stamp duties will see a significant reduction.

Opposition Spokesperson on Finance, Mark Golding,  will respond to the budget presentation on Tuesday, March 12, while leader of the Opposition, Dr. Peter Phillips, will make his contribution to the debate on Thursday, March 14.

Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, will speak in the Budget Debate on Tuesday, March 19, and the Finance Minister will close the Debate on Wednesday, March 20.