Kingston port decline couldn’t have happened under my watch

Monday, June 30, 2014    

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Dear Editor,

I must say how sad I am at the headline in last Friday's Caribbean Business Report regarding the decline in TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) movement in our Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) port, while we are preening and failing to understand and grasp the real meaning of a hub, and the necessary support needed to move us from a mere trans-shipment point to a 'hub'.

I could categorically state that this could not have happened under my watch. In my recent sectoral presentation I highlighted what the JLP and the ministry I ran had left in place as a plan to meet the programmes for growth in the new era of shipping, and the growth path for a 'multi-modal integrated hub', not just trans-shipment.

In that presentation I warned that the now (PNP) Government's shift to Goat Island and its decision to privatise the port to selective bidders and exclude major users like Zim (one of our largest users of the port) would confine its future management to an operator who already has hubs and user port investments scattered across the region; together with one country (namely China) building its own enclave trans-shipment port; which must impact on the other users and have them find or use alternative ports, especially those that offer equal trans-shipment points, even without the hub connection.

I said in that presentation this month: "That's why I call Goat Islands an enclave investment for I told the Chinese and CHEC in particular that I would confine them to Ft Augusta till all of these other developments were in place. I knew it did not serve "their" main purpose, but it served our "Jamaica's", and that's who we are to serve, and what we were elected for — developments to really make us a hub. Logistics parks, like economic zones, are merely spokes in a hub and the addition of each enhances your importance just as rail and air do.

And if you are to move from mere sea trans-shipment to hub trans-shipment where time becomes the essence of the investment, then we must hold the handle and demand everyone follows our vision, which is the real criteria for a hub.

I went on to say: "Knowing the Chinese, I ask them to come back to the table and just as I urged them to make the North/South investment and as I presented it to them as the first investment into the Caribbean with assurances; I urge them to look at the totality of an integrated hub, which we Jamaica must become if we are to survive at all.

"So as I say to them work to build out Ft Augusta to the limit of its capacity; invest in the railway and Vernam Field at the same time; build some economic zones along the North/South highway and remember the rail in Jamaica connects almost all of our ports, and you being masters of high-speed rail, think of how you can help us develop smaller ports to suit specific world markets.

"That should be done now, while we await the reports of the environmentalists on Goat Island, which would create a partnership to suit your trans-shipment needs and all of this being done while we satisfy our internal growth and prevent an 'enclave' investment, not perhaps intentional, but circumstantial.

"This would also allow us as partners to build out our KCT, which is now challenged by the Goat Island trans-shipment hub, and has turned away investors and if they won't, then let's pursue other partners! For certainly there are other players in the game and all our eggs should never be in one basket!"

No wonder there is a decline, as I know it, as Zim took a take-it-or-leave-it approach in recent negotiations. Instead of the Port Authority getting them to pay the $74-$75 per move we the JLP had left and projected, they told the Port Authority to take $55 per move or they would move their business. So it is apparent that this is what is happening.

In that presentation then (completely ignored by the press), I urged the prime minister to take action before it's too late, as while the two ministries that overarch these developments are in competition with each other — one expounding and understanding, while the other is silently muttering, not performing and misdirecting as the country's opportunities diminish — the decline is self-evident. And there, hence, our port status declines and will decline even further.

Mike Henry

MP Central Claredon

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