EDMUND Bartlett, the Jamaican tourism minister, yesterday got a lashing from the guest speaker at the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast, who rapped him for suggesting recently that casino gambling be considered to boost tourist traffic to the island.
Rev Roy Notice, in a personal reference to the minister, which caused some amount of discomfort for some guests, said Jamaica should be looking to scale down its indulgence in games of chance and instead be rekindling a stronger work ethic in the country.
“Come on Minister Bartlett, I am sure, especially with your Pentecostal background, that you will receive great inspiration so that you will begin to engage us in more meaningful things,” Rev Notice said as he addressed the nation’s leaders at the breakfast at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, the Jamaican capital.
“Why not explore the benefits of religious tourism and why not work on making Jamaica the conference mecca of the Caribbean?” questioned Rev Notice, pastor of the Mandeville New Testament Church of God in the rural parish of Manchester.
Bartlett was not present at the breakfast, but in a telephone interview with the Observer shortly after the function, he said that singling him out instead of the Government for its policy decision on casino gambling was “not in good taste”.
He said it was uncanny that such a statement should be made since he was the minister who brought the evangelical church into the mainstream of national life in Jamaica. This, he said, started in 1981 when, as the then minister of culture, he appointed one of the Blair brothers as chairman of the committee on religious services at Jamaica House.
“I was the first speaker at this same prayer breakfast in 1981,” Bartlett said. He added that it was also in 1983, during his first tenure as a Cabinet minister, that a gospel festival was launched in George’s Plain, Westmoreland.
He said he was also instrumental in having Al Miller become the first evangelical preacher to preach on an Anglican platform at the Parish Church in Kingston in 1985 at the National Youth Service.
“Amidst that background you believe I would be bashing the church?” Bartlett questioned.
He said, however, that suggestions made by the reverend on religious tourism were measures already initiated by the administration.
“.Gaming would not take away from what I am doing; people travel for diverse experiences, faith-based tourism is one experience and casino gambling is another and there is a whole range of experiences,” he said.
Bartlett told the Observer that it was just last Friday that he met with Bishop Herro Blair and Rev Al Miller to establish a task force to advise him on faith-based tourism, which he said would be part of the diversification of attractions. The official announcement, he said, would be made public after the task force’s recommendation is made.
The tourism minister said conventions, religious festivals and crusades involving internationally renowned evangelists and inspirational speakers would be all part of the package, which would be marketed with an impressive niche appeal.