Ronald Mason | Of Parliament, pride and China
The Jamaican Parliament is to be located in a spanking new complex at Heroes Circle in downtown Kingston. The need for a new Parliament building has long been the source of discussion.
Gordon House, built in 1960, has long outlived its usefulness in that it was designed and built to accommodate 30 members of the House of Representatives. It now accommodates 63. What is different about this new proposal is the prominent role of the Chinese government in designing and building Jamaica's Houses of Parliament.
It is a given that the Chinese financial package would make them strong prospects for the project. However, Jamaica's Parliament building must create space, ambience and aesthetics for Jamaican culture and heritage. It is also well accepted that the Parliament buildings around the world inspire pride and historical linkages for the people it represents.
There is no question that Jamaica has the skills, expertise and qualifications in our Jamaican building professionals. What we apparently lack is the ability to finance the construction. This major inability seems to be a stumbling block for us Jamaicans to actively and fully enhance our own historical journey by the addition of this milestone.
It is most troubling that we cannot be creative enough to put together a financing package for this major project. I am sure that many Jamaicans, both here and in the diaspora, would be only too happy to be financially engaged in this project. One must be aware that the Chinese have friendly relations with us, but that does not remove the prospects that during the course of construction, they could place instruments to wiretap our Parliament building. Remember, the world is built on alliances, subject to change, and not permanent friends.
The emergence of China as a significant and rapidly growing part of the world economy and its concomitant rise as a superpower demand our attention. Richard Bernal, in his new publication Dragon in the Caribbean, alerts us to the benefits and challenges that are likely to arise from our interaction with China in the foreseeable future. This does not come with boundaries clearly marked in our relationship. Thus, we can entertain the Chinese building the Parliament as a project, but Jamaicans must set the parameters.
Where is our nationalism? Where is our pride? How do we honour our Independence? Where do we create a legacy for generations yet unborn? Is this how we honour our past freedom fighters and parents of our nation: George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, Samuel Sharpe, Tacky, Nanny, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley? The issue of the Parliament building needs to be revisited and input garnered from the Jamaican people.
The Chinese have displayed receptivity to many things that are beneficial to us. They have engaged with us on the creation of logistical entities in utilising more comparative advantages of port location, infrastructure, geographic location, and trainable, young workforce that is available to their technological needs. We must continue to develop this and move with fixity of purpose.
The Chinese have also expressed a strong interest in Jamaica becoming a preferred destination for their nationals as tourists. Let us put it into context. We engage in heroic measures to have tourists from America visit with us. The pool from which we draw American tourists is to be found in the total population of 330 million people. The Chinese middle class alone is now more than 300 million people, and by the year 2020, they will be the largest source of tourists in the world.
Our tourism administrations have spoken about challenges in transportation, capacity, visas and accommodation for the Chinese, but as usual, all we do is talk. Do we want Chinese tourists here? The distance they would travel to Jamaica would imply that once here, they would have longer stays. They have more disposable income to spend overseas and we have some infrastructure in place to create the gambling and free-zone trade that they seek. We must make use of the opportunities created by our relationship with China.
The link with China for educational opportunity is well under way. The Confucius Institute at the University of the West Indies, Mona, as well as the several tertiary students who study in China, is one such example. When the students return, they will bring advanced technology, language skill, and much of the Chinese's strong work ethic. All of these accomplishments will work to advance our mutual benefit.
The conclusion must be that where there are synergies in keeping with our nationalism and heritage, let us work to make the most of them. We must keep our national identity and heritage for future generations.