The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Official Opening of the Portmore Resilience Park
(Beginnings of an Oasis for Portmore), Portmore Roundabout
January 17, 2024
Thank you so much.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Let us all pledge to do more in 2024. Thank you very much, Madam Master of Ceremony, for your masterful handling of the proceedings so far.
Let me thank my good friend, Delford, for the prayers that you prayed for us.
Let me acknowledge quite an extensive list of dignitaries. I am told that in ceremonies like these, I should not merely adopt the protocol, but I should recognize all the nice and decent people gathered here today. But allow me to say welcome to my Cabinet ministers who are here, Minister Kamina Johnson Smith. This matter is so important it could be treated as a matter of foreign affairs. Welcome minister.
And we have Minister Matthew Samuda here with us, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibility for climate change and water.
We have Minister of State, Alando Terrelonge, who is here not because he’s a minister, but because he’s a Member of Parliament for the parish of Portmore.
We have, you just heard from your own Member of Parliament, Robert ‘Big Rob’ Miller.
And today I will speak on behalf of my friend Fitz Jackson.
We have a man from a different yard, but nonetheless, still man-a-yard Audley Shaw, a Member of Parliament, who is here to witness this very important event. Thanks for coming, Audley.
And of course, Members of the Diplomatic Corps who are here.
We have senators who are here with us as well.
We have His Worship the Mayor, Leon Thomas. Good to see you, my friend.
And the first citizen of the parish of St Catherine, our Honourable Custos, Icylin Golding
Chairman of the UDC, Senator Ransford Braham
Mr Robert Honeyghan, Managing Director of the UDC and the hardworking staff of the UDC.
My own Permanent Secretary, Mrs Arlene Williams from the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
Other heads of agencies and members of the private sector
Members of the community.
Our students who are here to witness this historic event.
Members of the media and security forces
Ladies and gentlemen today is a good day for Portmore and Jamaica.
Today marks a historic moment in the history of Portmore as we gather in the heart of the new city, the new parish under the radiant Jamaican sun, not just to inaugurate a park but to witness the birth off an oasis. I am happy to officially commence the build out of the highly anticipated Climate Smart Park spanning 21.5 acres to be named The Portmore Resilience Park.
The development of lot 26 at the Portmore Town Centre, will see the establishment of a multifaceted recreational and wellness park catering to the people of Portmore. The park will be for the benefit and use of all citizens of Portmore and visitors. It will be free to enter. We expect the park to be completed in September 2025. The contractors are here, Pave-Con Limited. This is a warning, September 2025. This is a massive investment totalling 4.4 billion Jamaican dollars; all of this is coming from the budget of the government of Jamaica. We are not borrowing to do this.
Today, I want to speak to you as if I’m speaking to my family. I know that in your minds, as you look on this ceremony and you look at this piece of land that has been here variously described as a dust bowl, a health hazard and so forth, that there are some psychological blocks to messages that I will deliver. I want you, for a moment, to take down those psychological blocks and listen carefully to all the messages that I will deliver here today. You can always go back and reanalyze, fact check and determine whether or not what I say is true, it’s accurate. You don’t have to accept it because your context, your fundamental principles and beliefs may lead you to other conclusions, but I want you to listen carefully, absorb, analyze, rationalize, contextualize, and internalize.
There have been many calls about how the government should spend the dividends of an improved economy. Some people believe we should just give away the money. Yes, that was a part of the discussion a year or two ago in parliament, we should just spend the money. This government believes in the establishment of an economy that cares and you don’t build an economy that cares by merely giving away.
You don’t build an economy that cares on handouts. It may be necessary to have what is called cash transfers but usually we want those cash transfers to be conditional. If we give you some cash, then we expect you to send your children to school. If we give you some cash, then we expect you to have proper health seeking behaviour and that is well established in welfare economics. And that is indeed the fundamental principle for our PATH Programme, that when we do give social welfare benefits, it is usually in exchange for some social behaviour change that promotes growth, not just give away for no reason, or to spend on projects that don’t give a high social return.
The caring economy that we are building here today is exemplified by this park because what the government is doing is taking the increased productivity of every one of you that sits here because the economy can only grow unless your community economy grows, unless your household grows, and unless you the workers and entrepreneurs produce more. That’s how the economy grows, so if there is more revenue, it comes from your greater output. You hire us as government to oversee this increased output and make a determination as to what is the best thing to spend it on. Of course, we always listen to what the people say and the people of Portmore have always been saying we need safe, well-built social spaces and they have been saying this for a long time. Portmore with almost 200,000 residents does not have a park.
Your mayor is looking on me and I’m reading his eyes and I’m listening. You don’t have a hospital. You need a proper, well-defined market space. We have started that and there are some other critical things that Portmore would need and your government, in building the caring economy, has started to address your need for a proper health facility. So, you would recall yesterday I broke ground for the upgrading of the infrastructure of the Spanish Town Hospital, the hospital built 70 years ago, we’re going to put up a six-story building, which will make it one of the most modern health facilities in Jamaica.
And that is how we give back the productivity of the nation to the people by improving your health care. That’s how we build the economy that cares about you and in Portmore, we are going to be building a type five health centre. Type five health centre is just one step below a hospital. It will basically offer all the services of a hospital except some of the critical clinical surgeries, but then in a matter of time that can be upgraded. And we have already budgeted for it, and it has been announced in addition to one that we’re going to do in Old Harbour and another in St Jago Park. So that is how we are using the dividends from proper management of the economy to care for the people.
So, this park is part of our caring agenda. It’s part of saying to you, look, we know you need a place that you can jog around in the mornings, that you can just stroll around, that you can spread a picnic blanket and just chill with your friends or just gather in a safe and clean place or have a concert. You know how that can just reduce the tension in addition to reduce the hypertension. Yes, that is how you build the care.
4.5 acres of the 26 acres will be reserved for a transportation hub. Now, I know that there are concerns about a transportation centre, notice I didn’t use that term. And it is a much smaller footprint. It is a transportation hub. In any event, once we put up the park and it becomes a focal area, a destination, you’re going to need to make provision for transportation so when we are planning, we think about those things. We don’t want people stopping off in the road in order to get to the park or coming from the park, crossing the road to get to transportation. Let’s do it orderly. Let’s plan for it. Let’s manage it so there will be a transportation hub there. And it will be designed in such a way that it does not take away from the aesthetic of the park because we know what happens in our transportation hubs. It will not happen in this park.
21.5 acres will remain, and 18.5 acres will be used for the park itself. The original concept was only to use 15 acres for the park and the rest would have been for the transportation centre. We’re not going with that model. However, we will use 2.75 acres for commercial spaces, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about that.
The park will be named the Resilience Park and that is in recognition of the indomitable, that’s the word in my script here, but it is more than just indomitable, refusing to be defeated, but it is the ability to recover even after a tragedy, even after a catastrophe, even if we are defeated in the battle, we will recover to win the war. And not just recover but recover stronger and that’s the idea behind Resilience.
There is a deeper meaning to the building of the infrastructure. When Prime Minister Patterson did Emancipation Park, it was in honour of our struggle to freedom. We build a monument to that, and it has served Jamaica well. It is iconic, people go there to exercise, to recreate, to entertain. It has added significant value to Kingston and St Andrew. I had the privilege of building one such park and I believe I’ve gone one step better, but we built the park in Montego Bay using it as well to establish another important principle and definition of the Jamaican people, that of harmony.
So, we took a piece of land that was previously called ‘dump up beach’, which just reflected the negative side of our culture and history where we would take a beach and dump it up with rubbish and all kinds of things and we changed it into probably the finest park in the Caribbean. If you haven’t had a chance to go there, I urge you to go there. When you talk about people spreading their blankets and having picnics, that is what happens at that park every Sunday. It is a fantastic piece of social infrastructure and I feel that it has changed how people interact with each other; it’s a lovely facility. And today I have the privilege once more to start the construction of another such park, which we know will have a signal impact on the minds and psyche and behaviour of Jamaicans, the Resilience Park in Portmore.
We have a few more parks to come. The idea is that every parish in Jamaica should have one such park, so I’ve tasked the UDC to actively search for lands in all the parishes that we have to create such parks. And you know, I would like to be the prime minister that builds a park in every parish, and we can do it very quickly because we now have the model to do it. UDC has developed the internal capacity to do it and we are developing the administrative wherewithal to get it done so we will be doing more parks for Jamaica and that is part of building the caring economy.
There are some existing parks that we need to pay attention to. There is one park, which was not named by virtue of a principle or a cultural feature of our people, but still, it does represent a fundamental principle of our people, a fundamental epic of our people. It was named after a colonial landowner, Hope Gardens. You see how that name fits in nicely? And for those of you who have been there recently, you would agree that it is in need of some care. The Cabinet recently discussed it, and we have put in place some preliminary plans as to how to approach it, so you will hear more about what we intend to do for that very important national asset of Hope Gardens. In my budget presentation to come, you’ll also hear about the next park, or the next two or three parks that we intend to build.
So, this park will have soft and hard landscapes, meaning that some areas will be grassed, and some areas will have other materials for surface. It will have sporting facilities. It will have event spaces. When we say events spaces, possibly an amphitheatre or other such arrangements. I said commercial spaces before and the distinction with Emancipation Park and Harmony Park is that Harmony Park has commercial spaces. It gives a little bit more service to the park, a little bit more functionality and it works very well but more importantly, it helps to subsidize the management cost of the park. It will have public restrooms, but these won’t be like public restrooms that exist in other areas. These restrooms, you could rest in them.
Obviously, because it is built on the concept of resilience and an important part of the idea of climate change is resiliency, the ability of not just a people, but of the environment to recover from an environmental shock, particularly the built environment so we will be employing green technology. And that green technology- I see Fitz and Leon look at me when I use the term green technology. Don’t worry about it. When the former minister of local government in 2014, you know who that was? When he was opening or breaking ground or whatever it was, putting up the sign for the park in 2014, the then minister said we must green up the place and then quickly corrected himself. And I was like, why would he correct himself? Because yes, the truth is we must green up the place. We must make the place. You remember at Emancipation Park, you were there. Yes, we were sharing a private joke at Emancipation Park when it was being opened. We also had a similar exchange.
So, yes, we will be using smart technology and green technology so solar will be used right throughout to ensure that we have electricity to operate our pumps and lights and so forth and to ensure that we can have proper irrigation so that the park can indeed be green and verdant in its appearance. We will have sufficient parking and we will pay close attention to security. So even though you will be able to enter free of cost, the security arrangements will be such that you will be required to comply with them in order to enter so it will not be a free for all to enter the park. We know how parks fail. Even the best facilities fail if you do not guarantee security for the users. When people come into this park, they must feel free. Nobody’s going to harass them to sell them anything. Nobody’s going to harass them to beg them anything. Nobody’s going to steal the stuff that you put down. No, this is a park where we come to relax and recreate.
We will even have electric vehicle charging stations here. We will be making provision for conservation, including rainwater harvesting and we expect that we will have about 75,000 gallons of water that we will be able to harvest from the 26 acres. We will have a 700-meter jogging trail around the park, and we will use 70 percent recycled materials for this. A large part of the park is educational so right around the park you will have signs and interactive equipment that will give you information about climate change, about conservation, about recycling, and so forth. The intention is to use the park to change the attitudes of Jamaicans towards waste disposal, protecting the environment, and increasing the understanding of climate change.
There is no doubt that this park will create significant economic activity in Portmore, and it will increase the property value of all the properties around the park without question. But most importantly, I think it will improve how each resident of Portmore feels about themselves and their community.
We expect that the park will create about 400 jobs and 200 indirect jobs during its construction phase and during its operational phase we will have about 70 direct jobs and 30 indirect jobs as a result of the park.
In terms of the commercial spaces, we will have 14 designated commercial spaces for commercial activities and 18 kiosks, smaller spaces for operations. So, the big question that the mayor asks, when are we going to start? I understand because this park in particular has been the subject of many starts and stops. Thankfully, none under me. And I’ve said before that I find myself having to divide my time into completing what others started but did not finish in addition to carrying through the things that I have started. And that is not a complaint because that is life. There is no original idea. Only ideas yet to be rediscovered.
I’ve always said the brain is not all in one head, so thoughts are all over. Everybody has thoughts, right? But what leaders do is, good leaders are able to see the good idea and implement. I know that the mayor went to great lengths to remind you that it started under his administration, long time ago it started; sign erected, my record is that over 160 trees were planted around the perimeter, I’m searching for one. There was a commitment for a pairing with a sister city. Look, the point to note here as I speak to all of the citizens of Portmore regarding how government works, all governments must come to you with a manifesto of plans, things that we’re going to do and you have to assess, can they do it? It’s very good to talk rhetoric, promises, glowing words, but the real test is who delivers, who gets the job done. That’s what it comes down to.
The flaw in the political economy of Jamaica, how we make decisions, is that we celebrate the lovely words. We celebrate the rhetoric. We say “oh, him can speak good.” We celebrate the announcement and then having given of ourselves to promises, when we are disappointed, we turn away from the system and say “cho, mi can bother” when what we must do before is what I asked you to do when I started. Take down the psychological and mental blocks, listen very carefully to what is being said, fact check it, contextualize it, put it against your own values and principles, and if it doesn’t align then you make your decision.
We are here today with a ceremony which is important to mark the start of the project which will begin, ground will be broken. The contractor is here with me, and this is now a serious warning. The 5th of February, they should begin hoarding the site meaning putting up the fencing around the site to secure the site, and thereafter work will begin. So, if the contractor knows what I know, it better start the 1st of February. So that is the beginning date, and we expect to be completed by September 2025; that’s the objective.
You have been a lovely audience and I have just a few more words to say to you. You would have heard quite a bit about Portmore becoming a parish. Let me immediately say that any change in the physical boundaries of a political geographical area will result in a change in voting outcomes, quite possibly, but that doesn’t mean that you should not change political geographical boundaries. Indeed, there is a standard process engaged in a routine way by the electoral office, the electoral commission, where they look at constituencies and determine whether or not the population in those constituencies fall below a minimum threshold and then they go and there has been even attempts to say some constituencies should not exist because their population is below the threshold. Almost on a routine basis, PD lines are changed, constituency boundaries are changed; that’s just the nature of political administration. That’s just it.
So, the government seeking to create a new political administration for Portmore has nothing to do with trying to gain a political advantage. Let me make that clear. Now, I’ve used political in two senses. One sense is the contest for power and the other sense is the participation of the people in the administration of their affairs. Portmore has reached the point and has reached that point long ago where we must now provide for the proper administration of its affairs, it’s economic, social, cultural, infrastructure, security, all the local affairs.
And while Portmore has evolved on its own, government really set this in motion. The moment that government policy, starting in the 60s, decided to build out Portmore as a housing estate and have a large mass of people residing here and then through petitions from the people would have made provisions of lands for town centres, provision of lands for park, provisions of land for hospital, provision of lands for market, several provisions of lands for what could only be described as everything necessary to give it its own political administration. It evolved to the point where George Lee, former mayor, God bless his soul, recognize this and lobby this government to make Portmore a municipality. So, the understanding that Portmore is evolving, developing its own economic, social and cultural identity and should therefore have its own political administration is not in question because a former administration already established that by establishing Portmore as a municipality.
Now, bear with me a little bit. Why is it that we have parishes? How did the parishes come about? You know, there’s a sense in us that well, this is how I saw, and this is how I’ll leave it. The division of the country for administrative purposes into parishes began as a colonial vestige. It started out of how the colonial powers administered their own country by dividing up the administration of their own country into parishes that were associated with the church of their state. So, the Church of England would have a massive church in an area with people who go to that church, that’s the parish. The vestry of the church managed the pastoral and sometimes municipal affairs so at that time, the governance of the country was literally run by the church, hence ministers of government. And we continued with this right throughout.
After 1865, the Morant Bay Rebellion, the colonial powers were forced to confront the brutal conditions in Jamaica, and they had to examine whether or not the institutions that were in place were actually serving the people of the country. And they decided that it wasn’t, and they changed the geographical administrative boundaries of the country and started to put in place mechanisms to properly define those administrative boundaries to give people greater political participation, including the formation of a constabulary force.
Now, from that period, several of our townships started to emerge and many of our institutions started to emerge. Portmore has reached a point now where the administration of your affairs is really not done from Spanish Town. I am certain that Mayor Thomas will tell you that. And by the way, there is no way that Spanish Town can come and administer your affairs here. You wouldn’t allow it because in yourself you know that Portmore is evolving into its own personality.
Now, the flip side to it is that in the current structure Portmore councillors get to vote on the affairs of the other areas of the parish. And even councillors on the other side have quietly complained and whispered about that so all we are trying to do is to move to the logical next step, that’s it, so there’s nothing to fear. So, the issue at play here is whether or not we’re going to do this in a local government election. No, I said it Sunday, I’ll say it again clearly.
Our bill is ready to go to Parliament. We were ready for a little while now. We will not take it to Parliament. We will probably go to Parliament, we’ll table it, but we will not pass it because there is no way that we could seek to establish a parish and it be clouded in political accusations. No, we would never do that, and I want the people of Portmore to be assured of that.
Now, there is another area in Jamaica where its own administrative personality is emerging and which we will have to consider some change in how their affairs are administered and that is in Negril. And you will understand that in Negril, the town of Negril has grown so it has grown out of Westmoreland into Hanover, and it is now creating a problem as to which municipality has charge over its development. So, these are things that happen as populations grow, as countries grow, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should embrace it as part of the change and that is how we as Jamaican start to take responsibility for our own future and destiny.
So, we need to put aside the political fears and look forward to the brighter future that is in front of us. Embrace it and work with it. So, ladies and gentlemen, today is a great day. Today is a day when we unite the nation around a fundamental ethos of the Jamaican people, and that is resilience, the ability to recover from hardship and recover stronger.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the new Resilience Park which will begin official construction in February on the fifth.
God bless you and thank you.