Last Thursday, our new Houses of Parliament building was officially opened at Mt Wheldale during a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament. Every Grenadian felt a sense of deep pride and accomplishment on that historic occasion. The completion of the new Parliament building was hailed by Her Excellency Dame Cecile La Grenade as “a mammoth Grenadian undertaking” and indeed it was!
Shortly after the 2008 General Elections, the NDC administration decided that it was imperative that a new home be constructed for our Houses of Parliament, one of the premier symbols of our democracy. Indeed, the driving force behind that vision was then Prime Minister Hon. Tillman Thomas. To that end, in 2010, Prime Minister Thomas journeyed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a government delegation including Finance Minister, Nazim Burke and had discussions with the Crown Prince. Out of those discussions, the UAE committed to contributing half of the estimated $12m needed to construct the building. Well before the 2013 elections, the UAE made good on its promise and gave the government and people of Grenada $6.2 million. This was the first contribution received for the parliament building, and Minister Burke set up a special account to set aside all funds received for the project.
During a meeting of the United Nations in New York in 2011, Prime Minister Thomas held discussions with then Australian Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd seeking support from the Government of Australia to construct our new Parliament. The Australian Government offered technical and financial support. The financial support pledged was just about the amount needed to cover the remaining half of the estimated $12 million needed.
Prime Minister Thomas also held talks with the Government of Mexico and they pledged financial support for the project.
The vision of the government was to produce a truly magnificent structure by and for Grenadians. In the initial stages, the Government of Australia provided invaluable technical support as their technical team worked closely with the then Chief Technical Officer, Cecil Harris.
With the assistance of the technical team, the Tillman Thomas Cabinet selected the site at Mt Wheldale as the most suitable to erect the structure. The technical team also assisted government with drawing up the terms of reference for architectural firms willing to bid for the design phase.
Requests for tenders were put out, and 26 local and regional architectural firms submitted bids. The tenders committee led by the head of the Australian technical support team narrowed the bids down to 3. From the 3, Cabinet selected the local architectural firm COCOA (Caribbean Office of Co-operative Architecture). The work programme and timeline for construction were done by the technical team, and invitations to bid for the construction phase were issued. Local construction company, Quinn Co was awarded the construction contract from among several companies that bid. We give high commendations to the COCOA and Quinn Co on their excellent work.
Shortly after the 2013 elections, Harris the CTO, who had developed a close working relationship with the Australian technical team, was fired for no apparent reason. The Government in Australia also changed following the July 2013 elections there and a portion of the funds pledged was withdrawn.
The NDC is extremely proud to have brought this project to the point where, mere weeks after the 2013 elections, construction commenced. We congratulate Prime Minister Mitchell and his Cabinet for ensuring that the work on this major symbol of our democracy was continued to completion. We also express our sincere gratitude to the governments and peoples of Australia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates and to all other friendly governments that helped to make this dream a reality. The words of our Governor General to the members of both houses of this august institution on this special occasion are here endorsed; as you conduct the people’s business: “Let the quality of your debates be as high a standard and as true a reflection of this magnificent and imposing structure.”
Construction of the new Houses of Parliament was not the whole of the vision of Tillman Thomas and the NDC. In fact, the vision we have for our people is the construction of an entire democratic complex that will include an urgently needed Legal Complex and Halls of Justice. The 3 arms of Government: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary must be properly provided for at all times. Especially in this period when the High Court has been unable to sit for almost 2 months, we urge on this current administration to copy and emulate the passion and zeal that Tillman Thomas displays for our democratic institutions and quickly secure a permanent home for the Judiciary. Do this for the people of Grenada.
During his address at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Mitchell dishonestly and indeed brazenly declared the new Parliament building to be his legacy. Little wonder none of the speakers mentioned the efforts of Tillman Thomas and his Cabinet. This is clearly an attempt by Dr Mitchell to rewrite history and take undue credit. Realising the dream of the Grenadian people for a new legal complex and halls of justice may well be the answer for Mitchell’s to achieve his elusive legacy.