Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith has suggested criminal sanctions for at least one Opposition legislator she says has been creating public mischief in relation to the repatriation of Jamaicans stranded on cruise ships.
While responding to questions in the Senate on Friday, Mrs Johnson Smith said she has noted several instances in which members of the Parliamentary Opposition have been spreading misinformation and stoking fear.
She became particularly incensed following comments from Opposition Senator Damion Crawford regarding anxiety among Jamaican ship workers who are yearning to come home.
"I know there is a video being circulated on social media by a member of this honourable Senate and it has been further circulated by others, and let us call it an informal conversation with somebody who makes allegations about Jamaicans jumping off ships and committing suicide, which does nothing but cause anxiety.... It is irresponsible and, in fact, I actually think the Constabulary should look into whether this rises to public mischief for which it should be charged and prosecuted," she charged.
While Mrs Johnson Smith did not name the senator, Mr. Crawford got up to defend himself, arguing: "The minister suggested untruthfully that I said Jamaicans were jumping off ships."
He was, however, interrupted by Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson, who informed him that Senator Johnson Smith "never said that."
Breach of obligations?
The Foreign Affairs Minister at Friday's sitting of the Senate also rejected suggestions the Jamaican government has breached its international obligations in relation to stranded ship workers.
The suggestion was made by Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, who noted that Jamaica has a responsibility to its ship workers under the International Maritime Labour Convention, "so if the employer wants to bring them but we refuse to take them, we are breaching our international obligation."
"And that is why if it's a matter of communication, the communication was terrible. These people on the ships were not communicated (with) in a way for them to know what is being done. The uncertainty, the stress that they were put under was too great and undeserving as Jamaicans," he contended.
However, Mrs Johnson Smith insisted Jamaica has not refused any ships seeking to return Jamaicans.
She noted that while the government has been focused on numerous matters related to the COVID-19 fight, such as health, security, testing, contacting tracing and quarantined communities, all these have taken place in conjunction with efforts to get stranded Jamaicans home. "So we have never refused any ship... We have not taken any action that is in breach of the International Maritime Labour Convention," she retorted.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected next week to give a timeline for when the hundreds of Jamaicans now stranded on cruise ships will be allowed to come home.
More than a thousand arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Adventure of the Seas.
Forty-six from the Marella Discovery 2 were repatriated via a flight from the United Kingdom last week.
The Foreign Affairs Minister has also refuted claims that the Jamaican embassy in China did not assist a Jamaican who said he was evicted from his apartment as a result of racism.
Senator Johnson Smith said the claims were inaccurate.
"We cannot comment on how he felt about what was being done. But the embassy provided him guidance, advice which he refused to accept. Mr. President, sometimes circumstances arise which can have different outcomes based on our personal conduct of the matters," she insinuated.
Senator Johnson Smith said the government and embassy staff have been doing their best to support the more than 600 Jamaicans in China, so it was "very unfortunate that the embassy's function and capacity was presented in such a negative light when they did everything that they could have."
With regards to acts of racism, the minister said the Chinese government has indicated publicly that "any such actions taken will be punished by force of law" as they are not supported or state sponsored.