Address by the Most Hon. Andrew Holness
Signing Of Memorandum of Understanding
for the construction of New Parliament and Government offices
March 9, 2017
Today is the start of great things for Jamaica. I announced last year in my budget presentation that we would seek to develop a campus of government buildings that would encircle the National Heroes Circle.
The intention was to bring together all the Ministries, Agencies and Departments of the Jamaican State into a purpose built area which we could leverage for greater efficiency, provide greater security to merge services and to improve customer service delivery to the citizens of Jamaica; but more than that in concentrating development effort, we could become a catalyst for the wider redevelopment of downtown Kingston and the general vision is not just to put up square boxes that rise several stories.
The vision is to build buildings that represent the future of Jamaica, buildings that shows the aspirations of the Jamaican people, structures that when we look at them we can say we’re leaving legacies for future generation and when you put them all together you can say we’re building communities.
Communities where people can live, where people can work, they can raise families, they can do business, and I’m not expecting much retirement in that area, but certainly it will be an area for comprehensive lifestyle. The idea is to use this project as the catalyst for the regeneration, revitalization of this great asset that we have downtown, Kingston.
This is not a project obviously that is immediately on the waterfront, but the larger consideration is that we would certainly move in short order to develop areas and properties along the waterfront so this really is the start. Now let me say a little bit more about the project.
The project has three partners in it. The first partner obviously is the Government of Jamaica that sets the policy direction. We want to develop the National Heroes Circle firstly, the National Heroes Park itself where I believe there is consensus that our parliament should be located there and I’m going to digress a bit to address some questions though they have not yet been asked Ambassador, I know that they will be asked. Why are we building a parliament? It is akin to other questions. Why are we spending on the assets of this state?
Jamaica is only a poor country in our present economic circumstance, but we cannot be a poor country in mind and thinking. It is being poor in mind and thinking which leads to poor economic circumstances and so when I see people question what we spend on improving King’s House, whatever the historical antecedents are, it is a national asset that if we start to think about it, it could become as other national assets are in other countries where people come to flock to see it but we can’t show that asset off in its present circumstance.
The intention of this policy is to fully utilize the assets that we have and it means that we’re going to have to invest in them because our tourism product is not just sun, sea and sand. A huge part of tourism is the experience of sight-seeing; coming to look at what national treasures and assets Jamaica has to offer.
When the cruise ships start to come to dock in Kingston Harbour, they’re going to want to see what is it that Jamaica offers. They’re going to want to see the reggae museum or our music museum. They want to see the lifestyle centre. Coronation Market could become a national attraction, so too is our King’s House a historic building, so too is Vale Royal, a historic building. Yes they will go up into the hills, they will go to Strawberry Hills, and they will go to Bob Marley museum.
I want you to start to imagine just having that extra inflow of visitors coming to Kingston as they are now going to Havana or Santiago; yes Kingston must be a place that we show off to the world and we must stop being small minded in our thinking. This government will think big because “we little but we tallawah” – we little but we big. Jamaica is a big country and I want the people to start thinking big.
Enough of this poor thinking, enough of putting ourselves down and criticizing ourselves and tearing ourselves down. It is now time for constructive thinking to build ourselves up so pardon my digression. I was making the point that there are three partners in this: the government of Jamaica which is thinking big and giving the big vision and then there is the UDC.
The UCD has been responsible for the urban development of Jamaica, the urban planning of our cities and townships. I don’t think anyone could be critical of the statement that I am going to make that the UDC has over the years have kind of fallen into some kind of slumber and we have slowed down dramatically on urban development, urban revitalization, re-gentrification, regeneration and indeed ambassador, yes transformation and so we’re now waking up the UDC and I want to acknowledge the new managing director who is here, Dr. Graham and members of the board that are here as well.
I want to go a little further into what the UDC will do. The UDC effectively will be the project managers. They will also be participating in the architectural designs and the conceptual designs. It will be a uniquely Jamaican project. We will seek to as far as possible bring in Jamaicans to give directions to a shared vision. A lot of the technical work however will be done by our other partner which is- let me give a little explanation. China State Engineering and Construction Corporation is a fortune five hundred company, ranked twenty-seventh in the world. Let me just put it into perspective. Their annual revenues would be somewhere in the region of over a hundred and fifty billion US dollars. The GDP of Jamaica is under twenty billion US dollars. I just want to put it into perspective.
We sought to have a partner of this magnitude because we want the project to go off seamlessly so clearly we have to have a partner that has the balance sheet, the capacity, the knowledge but more importantly the willingness to take on such a project. This is not a big project for China State. Indeed it is probably amongst one of their smaller projects, however it is important to note that when we announced that we’re going to do this project, a subsidiary of China State, China Construction North America approached the government of Jamaica to say “we would be willing to do this project” and we said to them “The government of Jamaica based upon its current economic conditions could not give a government guarantee.” This project should not create any debt on the government, any new debt and therefore we saw willingness on the part of our Chinese partners and the clear position is that this is a PPP, a Public Private Partnership.
In this partnership the government will obviously provide the lands. We will ensure that the regulatory environment works in an efficient and supportive way. We will participate in the design and the development of the project as I’ve said earlier, we will ensure security for our Chinese partners who will be working in Jamaica and we will ensure that generally the atmosphere around this project is one that is inuring and representative of the good relationship that exists between the government of Jamaica and the government of China and that is the nature of what we hope.
The project is divided into two phases. In the first phase which we’re going to sign the MOU for the development of the ideas into technical plans that is to come up with a model drawing effectively of what can be done. That will be done in partnership as I’ve said before with the UDC, our urban planners and with the very extensive construction, knowledge and experience of China State subsidiary, China Construction North America.
The project will last- let me just be careful in terms of details- we expect it to last for one year – twelve months. When I say the project, I mean the development phase of the project just to be clear, the development of the technical plans to get to a model. it is important that we have a model because you don’t want to just run into the construction phase without ensuring that the Jamaican public can see and feel it, understand it, criticize it, question it, suggest changes to it before you build because it is such a project of national importance that everyone wants to be able to be a part of it and we want to see what it is that we will commit to so this phase of the project is merely about just developing the concept.
Now remember we’ve not done anything like this in a long time. Maybe the last time we’ve done that is when we were doing Downtown Kingston water front and probably New Kingston so it is going to be a very extensive exercise. There are other projects that will come from it and the UDC is also doing other projects.
Dr. Glen Christian is here and he’s a member of the UDC board and he’s been a strong advocate for the redevelopment of the market district downtown and right now extensive work is going on. Preparatory work, dealing with the communities, doing all the planning work not just construction work but community work to bring people together.
This project will also have a similar kind of social intervention to make sure that the people who live in those areas; this is not about displacing them or trying to move them out of the area. We’re going to try as best as possible to integrate them into the development because the development is not about buildings, the development is about people. At the end of the day the Jamaican people must be happy about this. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Other projects will come including as I’ve said before developments on the waterfront but this is going to be the start of it.
Now let me go a little bit more into the project. The Heroes Circle, National Heroes Park as I’ve said earlier, I believe there is consensus that that is where our parliament should go. We will have to of course have a conversation and consultation about where Jamaica’s National museum should go. My view is that it could be housed at the same site, that is National Heroes Park and it would really create a very good compound. You would have the shrines for our national heroes, you would have the parliament and you would have the national museum. That’s a thought as it relates to the national museum; we’re open to consultations. We’re open to dialogue clearly if better alternatives are thought of we can discuss it but right now that is the conceptual thinking.
Around Heroes Circle as was the plan in the 1950’s, that is where all the government ministries should have been located, that was the original plan; that’s nothing new. I’m merely carrying on ideas left by Norman Manley. When I look at the records that was the thought process at the time.
We have not followed through with the plan and therefore other things have emerged in that space so what we’re trying to do is to truly build out the Jamaican state and its various agencies and departments and properly house and locate them. What that will do is the Government of Jamaica pays a substantial amount of money each year; we make allocations in the respective budgets of the various ministries for rental and rental cost are significant and every Jamaican will understand what I’m saying.
Most Jamaicans understand that we don’t want to pay rent for our entire lives. We would want to pay mortgage and that is effectively what this will help us to do. We will now have purpose built space for which will use the rent we are currently paying to give the cash-flow stream to pay for this development. In effect the net effect on our budget would be zero because the truth is we’re paying anyway but with no sight of owning these spaces. Under this potential arrangement, if we pass this phase of the development of the model then potentially we could move into the construction phase and determine at the actual nature of the PPP.
In summary, today we’re going to sign the MOU that is going to define the framework of understanding. It’s a nonbinding MOU between ourselves and China Construction North America and that MOU will see to the joint development of the plan into a real model after which the MOU expires and we go into a new set of negotiations about how we actually execute the project.
I am very happy to have on board a company of substantial resources skills and expertise to actually execute such a project and the first phase of the project is now ready for us to put our signature to as a symbol of our intent to get this project going.
Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.