KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday January 18, 2017 – The Jamaica government has turned down Britain’s offer to partially fund construction of a new maximum-security prison in the island.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith said the Andrew Holness administration didn’t believe the the deal – offered in 2015 when the then British prime minister David Cameron visited the island – would have been beneficial to Jamaica as a whole.
“So . . . we have rejected the offer,” she said, adding that the decision had been communicated to the UK Government and “the matter is, therefore, closed at this point in time”.
Johnson-Smith, who is also Leader of Government Business in the Senate, made the disclosure in response to questions posed by Opposition Senator Lambert Brown.
She noted that the previous People’s National Party (PNP) administration and the UK government had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which the UK would have contributed £25 million (US$30.7 million) towards building the facility.
Under that deal, National Security Minister Robert Montague said on a local radio station yesterday, Jamaica would still have had to find an additional £32 million (US$39 million) to construct the prison. Additionally, he said, the country would have had to accept 600 people serving time in British prisons – many of whom are only Jamaican by descent and are “strangers to the country”.
Defending the decision not to accept the offer, Montague said the government would have preferred help “with schools and factories”.
“We have a problem with our prisons, but it is our problem. There are some things that we must own; we must own the crime problem in this country and we must treat with it,” he said.
The National Security Minister sought to make it clear that the refusal of the offer was “not a rejection of the UK” and the two countries were still friendly.
“The UK does things in their best interest; Jamaica must do the same,” he said.
The Jamaica Federation of Corrections (JFC) has criticized the decision by the government not to take up the UK on the offer.
Chairman Arlington Turner challenged government to outline how it plans to deal with overcrowding and crumbling infrastructure at the island’s prisons.
“What is the solution here? Do we continue until a disaster happens? Our prisons, especially our two maximum security prisons – one that was built in the 18th century and one in the 17th century – are falling apart,” he charged.