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JAM | Jul 6, 2024

Vitta Minn | What is the count? Government unclear as to how many shelters were in place for Beryl

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Prime Minister Andrew Holness addresses the media during a visit to the National Emergency Operations Centre, located at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Kingston, on Wednesday, July 3, 2024. In the background is Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie. (Photo: JIS)

For roughly 14-16 hours, Jamaica was subjected to the brunt of a powerful Category 4 Hurricane Beryl, making it vital that the Government convey accurate and timely information to its citizens

It is incumbent on the government to protect Jamaicans in times of national crisis and should make every effort to do so.

Beryl threatened to tear through Jamaica leaving devastation in its path and many people homeless or with destroyed houses. Fortunately, despite significant damage, the worst-case scenario did not materialise.

But more disturbing was the level of misinformation by the government and how misaligned senior government ministers were.

It was confusing as well as frightening and had the international press and agencies scratching their heads.

Dr Dana Morris Dixon, the de facto information minister, replacing Robert Morgan, failed miserably on her first big test.

Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with direct oversight for Skills and Digital Transformation, Senator Dr. Dana Morris Dixon (left), responds to questions from members of the Standing Finance Committee of the House, who are reviewing the 2024/25 Estimates of Expenditure, on March 5., 2024 At right is Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke. (Photo: JIS)

The three principal ministers concerning Beryl all gave totally different numbers for the shelters available for Jamaicans, which means that they were not briefed properly and were not singing from the same song sheet before the international press.

Senator Morris Dixon must now come before the country and give the correct number.

Disgruntled diaspora groups have noted the discrepancies here and point to this as yet another failing of the Andrew Holness-led administration, one characterised by corruption and incompetence. They really have it in for this Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government and they are garnering a lot of attention, particularly through Wayne Lonesome and Wilfred Rattigan.

Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie was interviewed by TVJ’s Andrea Chisholm and said there were ’60-odd’ shelters across the country, which in the end was probably the most likely number.

Then Senator Matthew Samuda goes on CNN, one of the biggest cable news networks in the world and declares there are 780 plus shelters. Now that’s a big jump on 60-odd as stated by McKenzie.

Cars drive underneath a fallen electric utility pole after the passing of Hurricane Beryl, in Clarendon, Jamaica July 4, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy)

Then Holness, the man responsible for the country at this dreaded time speaking with Al Jazeera confidently looked into the camera and told the entire world that the country has 900 shelters. Now that’s a lot for little Jamaica and a far cry from 780.

But what is the correct number? Isn’t this a case of misinformation? Why are senior Government ministers getting their wires crossed and their facts patently wrong?

‘Man in the Wilderness’, Wayne Lonesome, took issue with this and called out the prime minister saying this is a total lie.

“The man went on international TV and told a big lie. Not my words – the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s, with misinformation, disinformation, fake news,” said Lonesome.

The way he sees it, there could never be 900 shelters with 90 per cent mobilised in 14 parishes.

Only last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that the Government will be cracking down on those who spread misinformation and outright lies on social media and measures will be taken to deal with these perpetrators. Bloggers and commentators beware. 

(Photo: Stanford Report/Stanford University)

A week later, the prime minister finds himself stewing in a misinformation soup.

Now if Beryl had been as devastating as speculated and Jamaicans needed those shelters for refuge, it could have been a major problem and the Government would have had to shoulder the blame. 

Morris Dixon should have seen to it that the correct information went out to the entire Cabinet. It could be the case that the prime minister was given the wrong information and so misled the world.

Here’s what he said:

Al Jazeera reporter: “Can you tell us how prepared the island is and what preparedness you are at, at the moment?”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness: “So the Government is at its highest level of alert and preparedness. All our entities that are responsible for disaster emergency response are mobilised. We have 900 shelters across the island and I would say about 90 per cent of them are mobilised and ready.”


Trees bend in the strong winds from Hurricane Beryl in Montego Bay, Jamaica, July 3, 2024 in this still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: @curtiskitchen via X/via REUTERS)

This set off the Diaspora posse who have it in for Holness and his administration, and they went for his throat. Some even went as far as telling BBC reporters that the Government is corrupt and speaks with a forked tongue, gleefully pointing out that the prime minister hasn’t made public his statutory declarations, is unwilling to name the ‘Illicit 6’ and places no value on the contributions of the Diaspora.

The Government scored an own goal here and has a lot of egg on its face; Dr Morris Dixon has work to do. 


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