Prime Minister, Andrew Holness confirmed on Tuesday that there will be a scaling back of the budget for the new Parliament Building due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he stressed that plans for construction are still on track.
He gave an update on the project while speaking at the swearing-in of newly elected members of the House of Representatives, following the September 3 general election.
The proceedings were held at the Jamaica Conference Centre due to the limited space at Gordon House for physical distancing.
This challenge was acknowledged by the Prime Minister who acknowledged that physical distancing will have to be taken into account for the new building.
He said, even though the budget will have to be re-examined, the new building remains on the agenda, had discussed it with the Minister of Finance as recently as Monday night.
“Yes, the budget would have to be scaled back to the times in which we are, but you would see that it is absolutely important that we proceed with the new Parliament (building),” he said, adding that “our current physical arrangements would not be able accommodate us and our business.”
Construction of the new building is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2021.
Mr Holness highlighted the (semi-circular) layout of the seating in conference room used at the Jamaica Conference Centre for the special meeting of Parliament to suggest that a similar design for the new building should be considered.
He said this was particularly important, based on the reality that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to continue for a while.
In Jamaica’s parliamentary tradition, inherited from the United Kingdom, the Government (Majority) and Opposition (Minority) party members face each other across the chamber.
The Prime Minister noted that the design for the new building does contemplate the same seating arrangement used at the Jamaica Conference Centre, and having experienced it during Tuesday’s sitting, he was now more comfortable with the break from tradition that this would entail.