Peter Espeut | Why so dictatorial, Mr Holness?
Civil-society advocate Carol Narcisse began her first intervention at last Wednesday's packed town hall meeting on the 'redevelopment' of National Heroes Park by congratulating the RJRGLEANER Communications Group for staging the event, as it really was the Government's responsibility to do so.
For such an important project, directly affecting the livelihoods and well-being of tens of thousands of residents of Kingston - and the national heritage of the nation - public consultation by the Government should have taken place years ago.
There will be few who disagree that Gordon House on Duke Street - built to accommodate meetings of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation - is inadequate in terms of parking, and office and cafeteria space for our bicameral legislature with its 63 parliamentarians, 21 senators (and their aides), as well as the parliamentary staff and committees, visitors and the media. Apparently, some time in the 1970s, a study was done that concluded that of all the locations in Jamaica, National Heroes Park was the ideal place to site the meeting place of our legislature.
That study needs to be made public and reassessed, for there are many better places that I can think of. Why, way back then, did the study not identify the present site of the Jamaica Conference Centre and the International Seabed Authority as the preferred site? Or the present site of the Digicel building? Or where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and GraceKennedy are now being built? So often we see trite analyses of alternatives when the location for the factory or port or hotel is a fait accompli. Better places are still available.
And invariably, public consultation is not a part of the analysis of alternatives.
On January 5 last year, the South America Division of China Construction America (CCASA) submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) to do the project, and two months later (March 9, 2017), they signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the GOJ for a maximum of US$1 million.
A BACKHANDED APPROACH
The MOU states that the parties "will refrain from directly negotiating with any third party in relation to the subject matter of this MOU" (Clause 8.1). Therefore, all local parties (architects, engineers, etc) were excluded from the project to design and build a Government Campus at National Heroes Park, including a Parliament building, 17 government ministries and agencies, commercial and residential developments, etc (Clause 2.1.ii).
This MOU was signed with no public consultation about either the location of the Parliament building at National Heroes Park, or the creation of a Government Campus with "17 government ministries and agencies".
Until now, no plans have been made public, but leaked information, confirmed at the town hall meeting last Wednesday, reveals that Allman Town, Kingston Gardens, Fletcher's Land and Woodford Park will all be demolished and included in the Government Campus.
There has been - as yet - no consultation with the residents of these communities, and when the UDC general manager was asked why the public had not been consulted, he said that they were not yet ready to do so. Yet, letters have already been written to residents concerning their tenure. Which householder or business person will improve or expand their premises with the threat of compulsory acquisition hanging over their heads? This is unfair and unjust!
The MOU expired in March 2018, and under its terms, CCASA must be paid for work done. What work have they done, and how much have they been compensated? The public has a right to know.
The large crowd that turned out last Wednesday was concerned that by the time they are consulted, it will be only to advise what is going to happen. This is how a dictatorship operates.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.