Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Peter Espeut | Goodbye, National Heroes Park

Published:Friday | May 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

On January 5, 2017, the South America Division of China Construction America (CCASA), registered in the USA, submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) for the redevelopment of the city of Kingston.

According to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with them on March 9, 2017, by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, "The GOJ wishes to undertake an extensive development programme as part of its thrust towards the redevelopment of the capital city." (page 2) "CCASA and the GOJ have had preliminary discussions and CCASA has expressed its willingness to undertake the development." (page 3) The GoJ agreed to pay up to US$1 million (J$126 million) to CCASA for the preparation of plans for the "modernisation and development of National Heroes Park".

This project raises red flags and sets off warning bells.

'Beware of unsolicited proposals' (USPs) is a good mantra for a government to have. One of the blogs on the World Bank's website states: "USPs offer potential opportunities for governments, but experience shows they can introduce several challenges, such as diverting public resources away from the strategic plans of the government, failing to attract competition, and ultimately leading to opportunities for corruption."

 

PROCUREMENT GUIDELINES

 

Governments put procurement guidelines in place to ensure transparency and "to promote fair competition for government contracts". (See the GOJ Public Sector Procurement Policy, page 1). Responding to USPs throws procurement guidelines out the window and gives unfair advantage to the proposer, who usually has deep pockets, and can sweeten the pot with special financial arrangements.

The process entered into by the GOJ was flawed for several reasons. Under the signed MOU, CCASA undertook to prepare the concept designs and construction budgets for all the major buildings in the project without input from local professionals. Asking foreigners to design Jamaica's Parliament building looks like we are swapping one set of colonial masters for another! If our political Independence means anything, at least it should mean that we design and build our own Parliament building.

All the great cities of the world ensure that there is adequate green space for residents to frolic and recreate, and Kingston is no different. On May 20, 1809, in the bad old days of slavery, the Jamaica House of Assembly passed an act that "provided always that the said piece or parcel of land, called the Race-Course, shall be at all times open from five of the clock in the morning until eight of the clock at night for the use and recreation of the public, and that the said piece or parcel of land shall not be built upon by any person or persons whomsoever".

It was here that the Kingston celebration of Emancipation took place on August 1, 1834, (not in New Kingston) and where more than 10,000 people gathered four years later to celebrate full freedom.

Just before political Independence, in 1956, the Legislative Council passed the George VI Memorial Park Act, stating that the racecourse lands be used as a "public garden, pleasure park and recreation area" for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Corporate Area.

Successive governments have neglected this large area and have allowed it to become 'brown space', but that is no reason to turn it into concrete space. It is unconscionable that the residents of Kingston have not been consulted as to how they feel about the loss to them of the green space that is National Heroes Park.

The national shrine already takes up 15 acres of the 50-acre park, the proposed Parliament building will be built on 19.5 acres, and the proposed National Museum on another 4.2 acres. The green space that will be left will be only a token.

More next week.

- Peter Espeut is a development sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.