Good­bye, Na­tional He­roes Park

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Peter Espeut is a de­vel­op­ment so­ci­ol­o­gist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

‘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.’

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 Race­Course, 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.

Men work up a sweat in a game of football at Na­tional He­roes Park on May 31, 2015. Sec­tions of the Kingston land­mark, viewed by many as a key green space in the city, have been transformed into dust­bowls be­cause of gov­ern­men­tal ne­glect. fILE

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