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Gov't passes Bill for compulsory acquisition of Petrojam shares after Venezuela fails to act

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 23, 2019

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THE window of opportunity for a peaceful conclusion to the negotiations with Venezuela on the repurchase of its 49 per cent shares in the Petrojam refinery slammed shut in the Senate yesterday after an Opposition walk-out.

The walk-out was triggered by a statement by Opposition Senator Damion Crawford that “very little truth” has been spoken” by Leader of Government Business Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, in her lengthy explanation of the shares buy-back issue in her opening contribution to the debate.

Senator Johnson responded that Crawford was imputing “motive”, unless he was referring to the comments from his colleagues on the Opposition benches.

The walk-out came as a huge surprise to the media and other independent onlookers, but the Government insisted that it was inevitable on the basis of the Opposition's refusal to cooperate on the debate, and its initial proposal to put off the debate by at least a week.

After the walk-out, president of the Senate Tom Tavares-Finson said the action taken by the Opposition senators was a sad commentary on the behaviour of the senators, but the Senate's business would continue.

“What has happened is a sad moment for the function and the democracy of the Senate, but the foundation for this was being laid very early,” he stated.

“It seems to be that although there was a dramatic intent, the business of the country must continue,” he added.

Senator Johnson Smith had sought a brief suspension of the sitting to discuss the sudden conclusion to the debate on the Compulsory Acquisition (Shares in Petrojam Limited) Act, 2019, which would allow the Government to compulsorily repossess the shares and place the payment in escrow, if the Maduro regime in Caracas refused to agree on terms of repayment.

After discussing the issue with her colleagues, she informed the president that with the Opposition's failure to respond to her opening contribution to the debate, there was nothing else to do but to have the second reading and put the Bill to a vote.

After this was done, the bill was passed by the 12 Government senators who, in addition to the president, were present at the meeting of the Senate.

Asked by the Jamaica Observer whether this meant that the door was now closed, Senator Johnson Smith responded that “the Bill has passed”.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had promised that the Government was willing to delay any further action on the Bill, if the Venezuelan Government agreed to a resale of its shares before the debate closed in the Senate yesterday.


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