Peter Espeut | Politicians cursing politics
Prime Minister Holness, in his quarterly Jamaica House press briefing on Wednesday, announced that his Government would be pressing ahead with its plans to establish a "Government Campus" at National Heroes Circle and its surrounding communities, despite the misgivings and objections of many, including residents of the area.
"When it comes to certain projects, we as a country should set aside all the political considerations and focus on what is in the best interest of the country. And I firmly believe that what is in the best interest of the country is to have that area developed," he is quoted as saying.
It is interesting that this consummate politician should admit that, sometimes, "political considerations" are not in the best interest of the country, such that they should be 'set aside'. I agree!
It seems to me that this project has been riddled with 'political considerations' from the very beginning, and should be 'set aside'.
The "Government Campus' is to be located in the constituency of Central Kingston, which the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has not won since 1944. There have been no public consultations on what is to come, but when people hear through the grapevine that whole communities in Central Kingston are to be demolished and replaced with government buildings, parking lots, and high-rise housing (like Tivoli Gardens), what are they to think?
When preliminary drawings are circulated, showing new buildings on land currently occupied by residences, indicating that plans are far advanced, and yet there has been no public consultation, what are people to think?
When government agents walk through the community collecting data on who lives where, and who has title, and who does not, what are they to think? And then, when letters are written to residents about their tenure, what are they to think?
On Wednesday, the PM said: "We could have gone and developed the project internally, bring it to a point where all the details have been resolved and then come to the public, but what we did was, while we were developing the project internally, we were informing the public."
This statement seems to fly in the face of the facts. Nutt'n no go so!
In the absence of public consultation by the Government, the RJRGLEANER Communications Group staged a town hall meeting to ventilate the subject. The frustration of the residents and business people at the lack of information dominated the discussion. When the UDC (Urban Development Corporation) general manager was asked why the public had not been consulted, he said that they were not yet ready to do so.
What Andrew Holness actually did was to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on March 19, 2017, with a Chinese firm to design the Government Campus. The MOU states (in Recitals C): "The GOJ, through its urban-development agency (the UDC), has begun the preliminary concept design phase and the GOJ now wishes to have the project scoped and advanced from the planning and preliminary concept design phase to bring the project to a point where it can be implemented".
Was there any consultation with the residents of Allman Town, Kingston Gardens, Woodford Park and Fletcher's Land up to this point? They say no. The prime minister's credibility is now at stake.
Last Wednesday, the PM said that the RJRGLEANER town hall meeting had been "hijacked for political reasons". Me never hear politician cuss politics so!
Before the last election, Prime Minister Holness asked people to vote for him because he would be new and different, that he would be intolerant of corruption, and would usher in a new age of transparency and people participation. Many wanted to believe him. Their resolve is being sorely tested.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.