Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Ronald Mason | What has Holness pledged to China?

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 4:00 AM

On April 4, 2017, the esteemed Chinese ambassador to Jamaica responded to an earlier column regarding 'Parliament, pride and China'. I do not wish to engage the ambassador in a continued pointless discourse on this topic because, in fact, it is the Government of Jamaica that has authority in the matter.

When the memorandum of understanding was signed, the parties were the Government of Jamaica, the Urban Development Commission, and China Construction America (USA Division). As such, the role of primacy is with the Government of Jamaica, led by Andrew Holness. If the Government of Jamaica chooses to relegate pride, nationalism, heritage and indigenous expertise on the altar of foreign interest, so be it. We, as a people, will have an opportunity to register our opinions on the matter.

When the ambassador makes the point that there is a difference between the Chinese Government and the Chinese Construction parent company, he may be technically correct, but in the West, we say, 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.' It is hard to comprehend a contradiction between the commercial objectives of the company and the exercise of control by the shareholders. The fact that these Chinese entities operate on commercial bases does little to diminish the controlling role of the Chinese government.

 

AMBIGUITY

 

When language such as the MOU's purpose and intent is to participate in the development proposal for Kingston and "adjoining areas", the ambassador is ambiguous in the use of that term. To the best of my recollection, as a born Kingstonian, Heroes Park, site of the proposed new Parliament building, is still within the boundaries of the parish of Kingston.

I am delighted that one of the signatories to the MOU is still being referred to in terms of expectation rather than certainty by the use of the rider, "if given the opportunity of joining the project". This provided enough comfort for this Jamaican that any questioning of the project is still live. It is not a fait accompli. The questions of maximum possible localisation must be viewed in light of Chinese projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan in recent vintage; Chinese money, workers, expertise, and Sri Lankan debt.

China's history across large sections of the developing world must not be diminished. Though utterances of equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence are to be welcomed, one must always use a phrase in the West again, 'keep oil in the lamp and wick well-trimmed'. We must be vigilant, in terms of interest, partnerships and alliances.

China is a partner with Jamaica in many respects. Partnerships come with multiple tenets, including the right to raise questions, including the right to determine whether the partnerships are mutually beneficial, including the right to determine whether the benefits of the partnerships satisfy the needs and aspirations of a party to the pact.

I note well that one of China's five Principles of Existence, as offered in the ambassador's response, is sovereignty and territorial integrity. Jamaica is a young, independent country, creating symbols and instruments of our journey. Take a look at Duke Street and you will see the Old Legislative Chamber just south of Gordon House. These are but two rungs on the ladder that we built, and we appreciate their place in our history.

The third rung would be the proposed new Parliament building. It should be ours - designed, built, paid for, and utilised by us. If we refuse to claim complete paternity for our own symbols of independence, we must question the worth of our sovereignty.

 

FUNDING ALTERNATIVES

 

I would be interested to know what alternative method to finance this project has been explored by those who were elected to serve and preserve our history, heritage and development. A project as symbolically important as this should never be left to a foreign country to showcase 'the best of Jamaica'.

Where is the recognition of our continuing struggles to forge a nation built on pride, achievements and incremental success? Usain Bolt accomplished superb achievements at the Bird Nest in Beijing, but he went there having laid the foundation through hard work and as a proud representative of Jamaica.

We welcome the Chinese to Jamaica and we have willingly partnered with them, but some things are ours. Because I partner with you does not mean I give you the master suite in my home.

Surprisingly, the Chinese Ambassador has responded. Andrew Holness is silent. Has he pledged the master suite?

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.