Peter Espeut | Goodbye, Allman Town, Woodford Park
The issue is not whether we need a new Parliament building. Anyone who has been inside Gordon House knows how inadequate it is
for members of parliament, senators, staff, visitors, and the media. The question is where should it be located, and how should you go about planning and building it.
Last week, I discussed the impropriety of the Government responding positively to an unsolicited proposal from the South America Division of China Construction America, in breach of its own public-sector procurement policy. For that reason alone, the process should be terminated and a more transparent process initiated.
I also pointed out that National Heroes Park, formerly the Kingston Race Course, is the only large green space left in the parish of Kingston, and was left as a "public garden, pleasure park and recreation area" for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Corporate Area. For that reason alone, another site must be chosen for the much-needed Parliament building.
I have been sent the master plan for the development of what is being called Government Oval, which, in addition to the legislature, is proposed to contain a national museum and most of the ministries of government. The plan calls for the demolition of the present buildings around Heroes Circle housing the Ministry of Education (two five-storey buildings), the Ministry of Finance (one six-storey and five three-storey buildings), and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (one five-storey building). For a poor country with a high debt-to-GDP ratio, can we afford to destroy at this time the vast quantity of government capital invested in these buildings, and then to replace it with more debt?
On top of that, the master plan calls for the demolition of a number of commercial buildings and churches around Heroes Circle, and the demo-lition of the ENTIRE RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITIES of Allman Town, Woodford Park, and Kingston Gardens to make way for the government complex!
Why has this master plan, with all these demolitions, been hidden from the public? Surely, the Government has to abandon any claim that it is committed to transparency.
I must confess that my first reaction when I saw the master plan was a feeling of vindication! For years, in this column, I have been calling for the dismantling of political garrisons, the zones of political exclusion created by politicians to ensure safe seats. I have proposed that the Government acquire the land on which the garrisons are built, demolish the structures on them (they are unsightly and run-down anyway), and construct modern neighbourhoods in which any of us would be proud to live. Of course, these new neighbourhoods would be populated in a transparently non-partisan way.
My ideas have been pooh-poohed as being unworkable. "You can't demolish whole ghettos like that," I have been told. But look: The Government is proposing to demolish whole lower-middle-class neighbourhoods to suit itself! It can be done!
I hereby renew my call: Demolish and dismantle the political garrisons now!
The Government has a moral duty to look after the welfare of the residents of Kingston before they look after their own comfort. We know they already spend multimillions to redecorate and refurnish their 'stush' offices and government homes, multimillions on stush government cars (which they sell to themselves cheaply when they are voted out of office), and multimillions on first-class travel and stush accommodation abroad.
The construction of this stush multibillion-dollar complex must be seen as self-aggrandisement taken to the ultimate degree, while Jamaicans are given substandard education, housing, and healthcare. We must look at our national priorities to see whether the billions involved in this ill-conceived Government Oval could be much better spent at this difficult time.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to email@example.com.