Minister cries 'political mischief'; says Cabinet members marked

Sunday, August 12, 2018

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THE circulation on social media of a police report accusing Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz of an airport security breach in Montego Bay last month was yesterday branded by him as “political mischief” and “an attempt to sabotage the Government”.

“This is straight mischief. It is part of a trend over the last few weeks targeting ministers of Government in the Andrew Holness Administration, and makes me wonder if that is the only thing that these political operatives can do to regain State power,” Vaz, who is minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, told the Jamaica Observer.

The report, dated August 8, 2018, appears on a Jamaica Constabulary Force Ports Division Norman Manley, Kingston, letter-head and is addressed to the assistant commissioner of police, Border Security Branch.

It stated that on July 22, 2018 at about 6:50 am, Vaz and another male visited Sangster International Airport and proceeded to the security checkpoint at the domestic area to board outgoing flight #N958CC.

“The male companion had in his possession a firearm that was required to be inspected by the police prior to boarding the flight,” said the report which does not indicate the author.

The report stated that the men were informed of the standard operating procedure regarding the taking of a firearm onboard an aircraft. However, Vaz took the firearm from the man and gave it to the pilot without it being inspected.

“They then boarded the flight, which departed shortly to an unknown destination,” the report continued, adding a recommendation that Vaz be “reminded of the standard operating procedure in treating with firearms at the airport”.

However, yesterday Vaz issued a statement on the incident, rejecting any suggestion that protocol was breached.

“The circulation of this document is just the latest in a flurry of growing political mischief being propagated in recent weeks by political operatives and their surrogates,” he said.

Giving his version of the incident, Vaz said that he went to the domestic terminal of the airport in the company of his immediate family, one of whom is a licensed firearm holder.

“We were told by a port security officer that we could not board a private flight with the licensed firearm. I told the port security officer that my multiple experiences doing the same routine between Montego Bay and Kingston resulted in the handing over of the firearm to the pilot, which represented compliance with the standard operating procedure,” Vaz said.

“The port security officer said that is not the protocol known to her. She then called a supervisor who came to scene. The firearm was handed over to the pilot in the presence of both the supervisor and the port security officer,” the Portland Western Member of Parliament added.

“It must be noted that the flight in question was a domestic, private flight from Montego Bay to Kingston. The handing over of the firearm to the pilot is consistent with standard operating procedure. This protocol was observed,” Vaz said.

He said it was odd that “a report was purportedly prepared by a police officer in St James and leaked to political operatives and also on social media. It is even more odd that my account was not sought in preparation of this alleged report”.

He said that he has written to the police commissioner rejecting suggestions of a breach of protocol and has also “called for a probe into what obviously is an attempt to embarrass and put at risk the security of my family”.

Subsequent to issuing the statement Vaz told the Sunday Observer that because he is aware that he is a “continuous target”, he is “very careful” in everything he does.

“It is part of a well-orchestrated plan to seek to regain State power,” he said. “You can see it. This incident took place on the 22nd of July, investigated by the airport security, and all of a sudden on August 10 a half-letter pops out on social media?

“What is worse is that they said I was travelling to an unknown destination. How can you travel to an unknown destination leaving an international airport? The plane can't land or take off without logging a destination, and this is coming from a police report,” he said.

Yesterday Peter Hall, the security manager at MBJ Airports Ltd — the company that runs Sangster International — in a report to the director general of Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, said his investigation of the incident found no breach of the Airport Security Programme.

Hall said the investigation found that there was a declaration of the firearm as contained in the written report of the port security officer. He also said that the port security officer's supervisor had told Vaz that he would not be able to take the firearm through the checkpoint and that the police would shortly be at the location to check and verify the firearm before permitting transportation.

But the port security supervisor, he said, had referenced the procedure from the old version of the protocol before it was revised on May 30, 2014.

“That old version had no distinction for treatment of firearms between flights at the international and domestic terminal areas,” Hall wrote. “There is no requirement to seek the intervention of the police to check and verify firearms at the domestic terminal area.”

He said that the port security supervisor had indicated that she was not aware that the firearm being conveyed was already declared.

Hall said that based on the reports submitted, interviews conducted, and assessment of the activities, they found no breach on the part of Vaz or the pilot. “However, we found a trail of misunderstanding, improper application of procedures, and unfamiliarity with the contents the Security Protocol – AOD-SE -035 on the part of some members of the port security.”

The security manager said that in response to the findings of the investigation, the protocol was again distributed to Ports Security Corps, and an exercise aimed at familiarisation with the contents of the procedure is already under way within the ranks of the Ports Security Corps.

Noting the MBJ investigation, Vaz questioned how the police could have filed a report without first going to the company which has jurisdiction of the airport.

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