Editorial

The wanton abandonment of Kingston

Sunday, February 09, 2014    

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Successive governments of Jamaica have seemingly abandoned the city of Kingston, ironic because most of our prime ministers have had constituencies in Kingston or the Corporate Area.

Mr Michael Manley's constituency was Central Kingston, now perhaps the most rundown part of the city. Mr Edward Seaga controlled beaten up West Kingston for decades. Mr Bruce Golding briefly tarried in that constituency. Mrs Portia Simpson Miller's constituency, while its political boundary says Southwest St Andrew, shares all the characteristic of the contemporary underdevelopment of Kingston. Mr Andrew Holness' West Central St Andrew is no different.

Successive governments have professed their commitment to restoring the former glory of Kingston by keeping government offices downtown or building new ones in parts of lower Kingston or around National Heroes' Circle. The relatively new Ministry of Finance building is a noteworthy exception for which we can credit Dr Omar Davies.

But generally, governments of Jamaica have failed to keep State jobs and activity in downtown Kingston. They have pandered to the desire of middle-class civil servants to have their offices in the most expensive real estate in Jamaica — in New Kingston high-rise office buildings.

This is an extravagance and an enormous waste of money at a time when the fiscal budget is extremely tight. Indeed, Government is renting the space vacated by Digicel, while Digicel has set an example by building a beautiful, clean and modern office complex on the Kingston waterfront.

Every branch of the government that wants to construct a building wants either another piece of the dwindling lands of Hope Gardens or the lands surrounding the official residence of the governor general. Government needs to live up to its pronouncements on the restoration of downtown Kingston by keeping its offices below Cross Roads.

A good example would be to return the Police High Command to downtown Kingston, near to the rank and file of the Jamaica Police Federation, near the courts, and near to the General Penitentiary.

As things are, it seems that Kingston is for working-class people and St Andrew for the middle-class and those aspiring to middle class status.

The nation should salute the private sector firms that have remained in downtown Kingston, GraceKennedy being one standout. Others should be encouraged, by a tax incentive, to return or construct offices downtown. A few more developments like Digicel's and a cumulative effect would occur. This, we believe, would encourage people to build new residential accommodation. Economic life, jobs, restaurants, entertainment and the like would follow.

Over many years, there have been a number of initiatives launched to revive downtown Kingston. However, they have all fizzled, despite their good intentions.

What is needed, though, is the political will to get it done, because the capital city, with so many historical buildings and rich cultural sites, can become a major tourism earner.

Maybe our legislators would place greater emphasis on this if parliamentarians had to live in their constituencies in Kingston and lower St Andrew.

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