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Stabroek News

The politics of Vale Royal
published: Sunday | October 2, 2005

VALE ROYAL, the current official residence of our prime ministers, is a stately house surrounded by beautiful, landscaped lawns, flowers and trees.

The property on which it stands is now much smaller than when it was an estate known as Prospect Pen.

It was then owned by an English planter, Simon Taylor, who before his death enjoyed the largest fortune of over £1 million ever accumulated in this country. He owned four estates and more than 2,000 slaves.

The house was built about the end of the 17th century and is, therefore, one of the oldest residences in Jamaica. One of its interesting features is a lookout tower on the roof from which the owner could see the ships as they sailed into Kingston harbour.

The property and house were purchased by the British Government in 1928 and used for the next 30-odd years as the official residence of the Colonial Secretary, then the second most important official - after the Governor - in Jamaica.


As we approached Independence in the late 1950s, Norman Manley assigned a senior civil servant, Allan Morais, to oversee the refurbishing of this house and convert it for the use of future prime ministers of Jamaica as their official residence.

Manley did not win the general election preceding Independence, and Bustamante refused to accept it as suitable for a prime minister of the newly-independent Jamaica.

"I am accustomed to living in palaces," he said. Vale Royal was too small to suit his taste. It wasn't large enough to keep his fowls. He thought of using it as a maternity home but on reflection regarded it as inadequate.

Now for years Bustamante had said he would live in King's House one day. This was interpreted to mean that he planned to become the first governor-general of Jamaica. When he realised, however, that the authority of power and glory resided in the person of the Prime Minister and that the governor-general merely did the bidding of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, he changed his mind. But not his ambition.

According to Hartley Neita in his biography of Hugh Shearer, Hugh Shearer - A Voice for the People, at first Bustamante intended to have the governor-general reside in Vale Royal and that he would take up residence, as Prime Minister, in King's House. Recognising, however, that this could be interpreted to mean that he was diminishing the authority of the governor-general, a black man, he instructed his protégée, Hugh Shearer, to supervise the construction of an official residence for the Prime Minister on King's House lands. It was to be sited at a spot which was visible to traffic on the main thoroughfare of Hope Road in St. Andrew. He even wanted it to have a waving gallery as there is in Buckingham Palace in London.

While this official residence was being constructed, Bustamante continued to live at his private home on Tucker Avenue. The Governor-General, Sir Clifford Campbell lived at King's House, and Vale Royal was assigned to the Minister of Finance, Donald Sangster as his official residence.

Sangster lived there until he fell ill and was taken to Montreal where he went into a coma and died.

And although he had been appointed as Prime Minister of Jamaica, he never lived there for even one day, as Bustamante never gave up his residence at Jamaica House.

Incidentally, a similar situation existed in Antigua some years ago where Vere Bird Snr. continued to live in the Prime Minister's official residence for years after he demitted office.

When Hugh Shearer succeeded Sangster as Prime Minister in 1967, he confirmed Edward Seaga's acting stint at the Ministry of Finance by appointing him Minister of Finance. He also maintained the continuity started by Bustamante, by assigning Vale Royal to Seaga as his official residence. Incidentally, Seaga's wedding reception with his first wife Mitsie Constantine had been held at Vale Royal through the courtesy of Sangster.

During the 1970s, Vale Royal continued to be the official residence of the Minister of Finance, who was now David Coore. Coore was also Deputy Prime Minister.

In 1980, Seaga was appointed Prime Minister. By then, Vale Royal had become a special place to him. And in what was a strange turn of fate, the house that Norman Manley had designated as the official residence of the Prime Minister became so under the aegis of Edward George Phillip Seaga.

By then Jamaica House was being used as offices, and was no longer seen as a residence. So that when Michael Manley became Prime Minister in 1989, he opted to continue living in his personal residence, but identified Vale Royal as the Prime Minister's official residence, using it for official entertainment and for unofficial meetings. This use continued when P.J. Patterson became Prime Minister when he also chose to live in his personal home but has used Vale Royal as the official residence.

This might seem to be an extravagance but it is understandably so. In no country does the president or prime minister give up their private homes while they are in office. It provides a retreat for private reflection in sometimes what is lifelong, familiar surroundings.

Where will the next PM live?

Seymour Hamilton, Contributor

THE USE of Vale Royal as the official residence and not as a personal residence will be one of the issues facing the present contenders for the post of Prime Minister.

All have their own homes. Peter Phillips, Omar Davies and Portia Simpson-Miller have homes in St. Andrew, while Carl Blythe has his in Westmoreland. Blythe would most likely choose to live at Vale Royal full time, but in the view of this observer while he has plenty of talk, he will not make the walk.

It is, of course, a pity that Jamaica House is no longer the official residence of our prime ministers. It is an impressive structure and has the stature. With alterations it could be a really ideal official residence in which every holder of the office would delight in living. For example, it needs additions to the residential wing to accommodate the children of a prime minister. It also needs a decorator to provide a touch of warmth to shield its cold and austere feel.

Vale Royal could then become a Protocol House to accommodate visiting Heads of Govern-ments and other high-ranking officials of international agencies and organisations.

Meanwhile, would the aspirants rent or close their personal homes during their prime ministerial tenure? It is a heart-wrenching decision, to lend one's home with the personal touches you have given it for years to someone else, even of your own family. I do not think they should do so. We already ask too much of our leaders, including opening up their personal lives for scrutiny and worse of all, for gossip.

There is, of course, another aspirant for the office of prime minister. He, Bruce Golding, has a longer wait than the others which gives him time to contemplate and say what he would now do with Vale Royal, and what he will do then. He was seen once upon a time as the Mr. Change for a better way of political life until the scales which had blinded him from political reality were removed from his eyes.

Torn between his recent past, the present and hoped-for future, he commits gaffe after gaffe. His latest is to put his party on an alert for general election to take place shortly after the new PNP Prime Minister takes office. Rather like putting a country or region on a hurricane alert! This must be the joke of this new century. No one with any intelligence or political awareness can believe this. It boggles the mind.

Norman Manley called a referendum and lost. He did not learn from that error and so called general election two years before they were due. Once again he lost. And anyone who understands the culture of the People's National Party knows that they are students of history.

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