Jamaica: Prime Minister Holness stresses the importance of historical monuments

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has stressed the importance of historic monuments, saying that while there is a tendency to downplay the building of monuments, they are important historical reminders that should be considered and treated with respect.

Holness was speaking at the unveiling of the official statue of the island’s first prime minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante, at Hanover’s West Parish Library on Friday.

He said a quick look back at pre-independent Jamaica will show that there have been many sacrifices on the part of individuals when it comes to nation building, and monuments… some in the form of statues…are erected to recognize these efforts.

“There is a feeling in Jamaica, and I have observed conversations, that if you spend resources on improving infrastructure such as building a new monument…like improving a civic building…building ‘a new parliament for example…there is a feeling that it is a waste of money…that we shouldn’t be doing this as there are other [important] things the money could be used for. And I’m sure all of you here and those listening on social media will agree that there are other things besides that $3 million. [the cost for building the Sir Alexander statue] could be used to do,” he said.

“What is the value of erecting a monument…a monument of historical significance, or what is the value of improving infrastructure for civic administration or for our heritage…what is the value of that? [And] especially if you juxtapose that with other big things like sending about 300 kids back to school or fixing lots of potholes along the road.

The Prime Minister said that while he would not dispute the merits of devoting resources to solving other problems, there must however be a better understanding in public discourse of what the symbols of “our bureaucracy civil” and “our civil administration…and what the monuments of our history mean.

Holness said he believes there is a kind of disconnect between people and “these very important institutions”, noting that it is a disconnect that leads to their “devaluation”.

“The irony, of course, is that the more we devalue our history…the more we devalue monuments…. our civil bureaucracy and our administration… the less they will operate to the standards we would like them to meet,” he added.

The Prime Minister also spoke of the deep legacy of Sir Alexander – one of the pioneers of independent Jamaica – and said the nation, in reflecting, must think of the struggles and difficulties “that we have overcome” in the past and draw strength and inspiration to overcome today’s difficulties as “partners” for a better Jamaica for each of our citizens.

Sir Alexander was born in Hanover on February 24, 1884. From the early 1900s, he began campaigning for better wages and working conditions for those on plantations. On September 8, 1940, he was detained at Up Park Camp (the headquarters of the Jamaica Defense Forces) for alleged violation of the Realm’s Defense Act and spent the next 17 months there.

He continued his advocacy after his release, and in 1943 founded the Jamaica Labor Party.

Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1944, and in the first general election under this system the JLP won 22 of 32 seats. Sir Alexander later became independent Jamaica’s first Prime Minister in 1962.

He retired from active politics in 1967 and in October 1969 was conferred with the Order of National Hero. Sir Alexander – died on Jamaica’s Independence Day, August 6, 1977.

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