Speech by the Prime Minister

Address By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister At the Official Launch of Houses of Parliament Design Competition At The National Heroes Park May 1, 2018

Thank you, Heather, Deputy General Manager of the UDC

Senator Ransford Braham, Chairman of the Urban Development Corporation

Colleague Members of Cabinet

Senator the Honourable Tom Tavares-Finson, President of the Senate and other members of the senate who are present

The Honourable Pearnel Charles, Speaker of the House of Representatives and other members of the house of representatives who are here

Ambassador the Honourable Douglas Saunders, Cabinet Secretary

Your Worship the Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew- we now call it the KSAMC, Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation, Senator Councillor Delroy Williams

The Honourable Steadman Fuller, the Custos of the parish of Kingston

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Akbar Khan, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Dr. Damian Graham, General Manager of the Urban Development Corporation

Other Heads of Agencies who are here


Architect Leighton Whyte, Senior Project Manager at the Urban Development Corporation

Architect Suzette Adams-Rickards, Project Architect, Urban Development Corporation

Members of the private sector

Members of the academic community

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

 boys and girls, good morning.


I hope I have not left anyone out. I keep telling the Cabinet Secretary that we have to have a shorter list for acknowledgements but we do it the British style, but the British have changed it long ago so we have to get up to speed and have a much shorter list. I have taken five minutes in salutation, but that’s important because it’s important to make everybody feel acknowledged and I guess this is where we start.

In anything that we are doing in Jamaica respect due, respect due, everyone’s opinion matters and you have to listen. You may not always act on the opinion, but you have to listen to what everyone has to say and it’s easy to get frustrated because you are already seeing the vision, you already know how to get there but then you have other people telling you that there are other pathways to the vision, and some people might even be saying don’t pursue the vision, don’t go on any pathway at all but you know what, everyone of us is going to get to the vision. We’re not going to leave anybody behind so, if it means that we have to take a little longer to resolve the issues, we take the time to resolve the issues. That is the nature of our democracy but at the same time I want to be absolutely clear that if presented with a choice of doing something and doing nothing, I will always be doing something.

I appreciate that it has already been said, but I have to say it again, this is indeed a historic moment for Downtown Kingston and Jamaica. Indeed, it is transformational.

I want to acknowledge my Permanent Secretary Mrs. Audrey Sewell, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, respect due.

As mentioned before, discussions about a new parliament building has been on the table for over fifty (50) years, but this is the farthest we have pushed the needle in fifty years. On that note, I would like to say thanks to everyone who has been working on the project; the UDC, the Jurors, the Joint Parliamentary Oversight Committee and our patron Gordon Gill. I would also like to commend the members of the Jamaica Institute of Architects for their decision to support this initiative and indeed to ultimately participate in the panel of jurors for the competition.

There is no doubt that this Houses of Parliament Design Competition will stir national pride among the architects who will be entering the competition. I’m also sure the initiative will give up-and-coming architects the impetus to be the best, whether they are currently studying or looking to start their journey.

Let me take the opportunity to give you an even better context and perspective. Jamaica has not had a purpose-built designed parliament building in fifty-two years of its political independence. You may not know this, but at the time of independence in 1962 the countries legislators moved out of the headquarters house which was then our legislative parliament building, call it that, that was located on Duke Street into the newly constructed Gordon House which was built right beside it, but Gordon House was designed and built for meetings of the municipal council, the KSAC or rather the Kingston & St. Andrew Municpal Cooperation (KSAMC). So actually, Jamaica’s Parliament is resident in the parish council building. I just stopped a while so that could sink in.

So, the KSAMC was never able to occupy their purpose-built building. Yes, our sovereign building where we pass legislation was really built for a parish council building. I mean that could explain a lot of things.

I also want you to consider that Jamaica has a bicameral legislature but Gordon House only has one chamber and you could understand why the parish council is unicameral; it just has one house. So, the senate and the lower house share the same space, so the business of the country is technically hampered because you have to meet on different days, creates a scheduling problem sometimes especially when there are critical bills to be passed. So, the fact is that Gordon House was always a temporary house of parliament. Aside from the issue of insufficient space, lack of adequate parking and facilities to interact and engage with the public, the building itself lacks the stature and functionality of a modern parliament.

I want to pause here a bit, because there’s a sense in the country that we mustn’t spend anything on Government. There is a sense that if you’re going to invest in making the symbols of Government reflective of the hopes, dreams, ambitions, aspirations of the people, that you’re wasting money because there is this great distrust of the state and indeed a separation of the state from the people.

Investing in a parliament is not wasting the people’s money. It is because we have not as a country made the investments in the symbols of our sovereignty, why we have the fundamental issues with respect for the  rule of law, and fairness, and dignity of the state and until we break that and show that the Jamaica state is not a kleptocracy enriching itself for a certain class and sector of the society but is making an investment for everyone to be able to access and benefit from it, then we will continue as we are. I as your Prime Minister, don’t want to leave Jamaica the way I found it, and I know that none of you in this audience want to leave Jamaica the way you found it.

The Mayor spoke about transformation. I spent quite a bit of time since 2007-2011 very close to here in a very old building, the Ministry of Education and I would from my office look across at the park, and I would be able to look across and see some of the other buildings as well and I recall having to deal with the transformation of education and in dealing with it we had the education transformation task force and I remember talking to a consultant and he was trying to explain to a group of our education staff members what was transformation, we’re going to transform education. He used this anecdote he said, “Transformation is changing something for example a caterpillar into a butterfly. You’re taking something in one state, not keeping it in a similar state, it is a total change but it is a better product at the end of the process but that there is a process and the process is one where you may have to close yourself off sometimes in a cocoon but at the end of it you’re liberated because the caterpillar is anchored to a leaf or a branch but when it becomes a butterfly it can soar and its opportunities are limitless”.

So that is what we want to do here Mr. Mayor we want to transform. I had another moment at the Ministry of Education because people who know me, know that I’m accused of paying too much attention to details. These days I can’t, I have to do the high-level thinking but I was going through some files, you know as minister they carry these huge files to you, of course you only have to sign off on the page on the top but they give you everything going back. In this file- I was curious I was flipping back, went back to somewhere in the 1950’s, Norman Manley was then the premier and I saw some documents in that file which literally had a plan. The idea was that the parliament would be here at Race Course now Heroes’ Park; not my idea, this is what Norman Manley had in mind. He had some ideas as well for Kings House lands, but I am not going into that right now.

So, you can understand that having read this and seen that there was someone else who had a vision, look what happened after fifty years, we’re still having a dream?  We have to wake up now and get something done.

We’re going to do it, we’re going to build this parliament and we’re going to do it the right way, we’re going to take all concerns on board we’re going to take all suggestions on board, it is going to be bipartisan, multi-sectoral and it will be done in the best interest of all the peoples of Jamaica.

In November 20, 2003, the Oliver Clarke chaired Parliamentary Salaries Committee, presented its report which recommended higher salaries but among other things that a new parliament building be constructed to allow for Parliamentarians to perform their work efficiently. The committee was of the view that the legislature cannot continue to carry out its work within the limited and inadequate space of the existing parliament building. That was almost fifteen years ago. We cannot delay any longer, we have a real opportunity to make Jamaica what it should be, so we need to work together today to create the Jamaica we all want to see for the future.

Just imagine in a few years this space and the wider downtown area will be transformed into a vibrant, enviable, iconic destination, the center of the Caribbean because this is how we should see ourselves, Jamaica as the center of the Caribbean, the center for business, the center for culture and lifestyle which we easily could be, the center of innovation and creativity on par and exceeding anywhere else in the world. Yes, we can be the super power island of the world.

The House of Parliament will be the anchor stone of all of that, the keystone for all of that development. It will hold a central position in Kingston the capital, right here. We will have fourteen Government Ministries and fourteen Government ministries and core agencies conveniently and efficiently located within the three hundred acres of surrounding land. This is about fifty-two acres of land but the development plan outside of the parliament calls for the redevelopment of three hundred acres surrounding this property. We will have our ministries, agencies, all centrally located. Can you imagine the efficiency of that when we purposely plan and build for an efficient Government? You know, you don’t have to go Downtown then Constant Spring then somewhere else and the traffic; efficiency of Government but at the same time, we’re going to build them in an iconic fashion.

As I’m speaking to you, I’m just seeing, don’t turn around, a group of sight seers, tourists obviously with cameras taking pictures of our park. If we have the facilities in which we don’t have lock off our tourists in resorts and they can come out and move around and stop at the little corner shop and get some crab across the road and roast corn and it is in facilities that are world class standard. We’re not trying to eliminate people’s business but we have to raise the standard at which the services are provided because that in itself is an attraction. There is nowhere else in the world that does it like how it is done there.

As Ed (Bartlett – Tourism Minister) would say, it is the gastronomic experience, but that is what we’re trying to create. We’re going full speed ahead to make the investment in Port Royal, is it not our intention that the tourist come off in Port Royal and stay there. We want them to come up and see the National Gallery. We want them to go to Bob Marley Museum. We want them to have coffee up in East rural St. Andrew and I have a special interest there obviously, but they could come here and just sit on our lawns and just take in the sun. Not everybody wants to go to beach but at the same time, we want our own Jamaicans to come and run in the park, to come and play football here, have concerts here and feel safe.

So, some of the discussions I’m wondering if we’re not listening to each other, so I’m taking the opportunity today to speak very clearly to what the vision is because I’m certain we all share the same vision.

Of course, all of this has to be paid for and one thing we have said as part of securing our economic independence is that we are not going back to a situation of debt, so it means that we have to incorporate the private sector in everything that we’re doing. So, a part of the development here will have commercial value, there will be significant commercial value there will be approximately 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.

There are some who feel that we’re trying to throw out the people who live here. You know, block and steel don’t make a city, people make a city. The people give you that vibration, that energy, that culture, they create the lifestyle the warmth the reception but if the block and steel isn’t built in a particular way it could also create a culture of crime and violence where people don’t relate well with their built environment or use their built environment to perpetrate crimes. So, we are taking into consideration the people and the built environment, so there will be five thousand homes when this project is done around this area and not homes exclusive for the rich. There will be homes of all grades and classes and income bands because all kinds of people make the city vibrant, inclusive, multicultural, all embracive, so nobody has to fear.

As we talk about a transformation, a new culture, a new building, let me sound a warning- well a warning is too strong a word, but let me make an alert that we cannot carry the Gordon House behavior to the new parliament. Right Mr. Speaker? Right Mr. President? House leader? Because I know that it is a matter of concern for the public.

You know during the 2016 election campaign even before that, whenever I would go out into the field you know there would be people who would raise the issue of the behavior of parliamentarians. I don’t think we do ourselves any justice by what we say and what we do in parliament. We want to dismiss it sometimes by saying, ‘oh you know it’s the lower house, it’s the house of commons,’ we battle it out there, it’s not Sunday school or Sabbath school, it’s where there is robust and vigorous debate but you know you can be vigorous and robust and still maintain decorum and still maintain the dignity of the house. There is without doubt a deterioration in parliamentary craft and I believe all parliamentarians who sit in their own right, there is no principal to guide them. All parliamentarians need to reflect on this and improve their parliamentary craft. The lowest cannot be the denominator of parliament.

Another feature of this is that we’re having a competition obviously to select the parliament. We have asked Mr. Gordon-Gill, a Jamaican to be our patron. I thought it important to invite someone from the diaspora because in building our parliament, we would want to have our diaspora participate in some way because the parliament is for Jamaicans and it’s not just Jamaicans living here. When you think about Jamaica now, we have to think about Jamaicans living everywhere and we have to find a way to finance it and I believe this is a way in which we could incorporate the diaspora. This is a way in which we could bring them in to become part of the creation of the sovereign building.

When the United Kingdom rebuilt their parliament, which was burnt in a fire in somewhere in 1840 there about, countries from all over the Commonwealth then colonies contributed to its rebuilding. Jamaica made its own contribution as well and so, I think a part of the rebuilding is that we will have to ask our diaspora to come together to make their small contribution and I’m not saying that it has to be cash, but something to say this was contributed from the diaspora of the U.K, the diaspora of Canada because we really want it to be an effort for all Jamaicans to feel that they have some ownership in the park.

The parliament must project the sovereignty of the people of Jamaica, our freedom, but freedom is not the same thing as independence, so it must also project our independence. It must project that we are a people of high ideals, of strong principles of democracy and fairness and truth and kindness and love. All of those things would have to be reflected in our parliament building but it must also reflect our history.

We are a people up rooted from all over the world, brought here in struggle, we continue in struggle but the struggle must be the good fight for our economic, social and political independence for Jamaica to truly self-actualize and be the great people that we were destined to be. The building must say, Up- you mighty race you can accomplish what you will.

I thank you ladies and gentlemen.