Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Aren't we good enough, PM?

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 3:00 AM

This is an open letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness from the College of Fellows of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, including Clifton Yap, Marvin Goodman, Robert Woodstock, Ray, McIntyre, Ann Hodges, Carl Chen, Douglas Stiebel and Errol Alberga.

A Parliament building is more than a meeting place for the highest office of government. It is an expression of our Independence and a symbol of our democracy and national pride. Having regard for our history and constant striving for nationality, it speaks volumes that the Government of Jamaica would consider handing the design and construction of the nation's Parliament building to an overseas construction company.

Your recent announcement that the Jamaican Government, through the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), has signed a memorandum of understanding with China Construction Company of America (CCA) for the provision of design consultancy services for the proposed new Parliament building and government offices can be regarded as an insult to local professionals in the building industry, a disregard for Jamaican taxpayers, and in contradiction of your administration's stated objective of creating economic growth and employment for Jamaicans.

 

LEAVING LEGACIES

 

The fact is that there are many local architects, planners, engineers, quantity surveyors and other construction industry professionals who are very well qualified to provide these design consultancy services, and also to carry out the construction itself. The efficient and effective design and construction of the Jamaica Conference Centre and the National Stadium are just two of many examples demonstrating these capabilities, where the consultants, contractors, subcontractors and artisans, etc., were all Jamaican.

It is ironic that you can make the statement that "the vision is to build buildings that represent the future of Jamaica. Buildings that show the aspirations of the Jamaican people, structures that, when we look at them, we can say we are leaving legacies for future generations", while bypassing the inputs and interests of Jamaicans in the construction industry, missing the real opportunity for embracing the vision from within our creative souls and maximising local employment and contributions to economic growth at all levels.

Perhaps now, as in other instances, the rationale for directly handing over large projects to the Chinese contractors is that they are providing financing at very low rates of interest. However, even if financing was the main criteria, such procurements could, and should, have been put out for competitive tender to ensure value for taxpayers' money, as there may well be several other interested companies.

 

ENORMOUS DEBT

 

In addition, it has already been clearly established that the modus operandi of such arrangements with most Chinese companies is that they are the ones who establish the scope of works and the project costs, so in practical terms, charging a very low interest rate on loans is inconsequential, as construction costs can be managed to compensate for this. The main benefit that Jamaica has often received out of these arrangements is the enormous debt.

In 1998, a joint parliamentary committee was established and tasked with choosing a site for the Parliament building and writing the terms of reference for conducting a design competition. Prominent architect, the late Vayden McMorris, provided technical advice to that committee whose recommendations were submitted in 1999 but never acted upon.

Also, in recent times, the UDC itself, with its team of architects and planners, has been working on plans for the Parliament building and the proposed development of Government buildings in the Oval Zone, as well as the renewal of downtown Kingston. We can see no justifiable reason why, having reached so far with the locally developed studies, CCA had to be brought in, and we are firmly of the view that if assistance was needed to supplement the efforts of the UDC, local professionals should have been contracted.

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