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A practical look at the Jamaican Logistics Hub

MARK WIGNALL

Thursday, February 21, 2013    

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SO, it appears that Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell has redeemed himself.

Returning from 'Mas' in Trinidad, he has announced a not too insignificant lowering of electricity rates for high-use manufacturing entities and an important adjustment to the JPS's disconnection policy for all. It is obvious that the wily politician in the minister was at work, as the homework was already done before he went off to 'bump and wine' in Trinidad Carnival.

The critics like me, who had chided the minister for running off to indulge himself in 'Mas' at a time when it seemed that a highly important aspect of his energy policy was falling apart, must now be silent if not apologetic.

As a part of what the PNP administration calls 'Joined-up government', it is imperative that all ministers share the same vision of the government's plan for the Logistics Hub and that all the ministries are geared towards meeting the same objective.

On January 18 and 19, a Logistics Hub Task Force Retreat was held at the Jamaica Conference Centre and I was present. Numerous inputs from some in the diplomatic services and the best minds in the civil service and allied bodies launched what is hoped to be the development of a Master Plan to get the numerous aspects of the hub into one cohesive whole.

Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton must have been in many modes as he announced to the impressive gathering the 'tectonic shift' that the development of a Logistics Hub would mean for Jamaica's economy. Even as he did so and other technocrats made their inputs, one of them reminded us that Jamaica is noted for two things: announcements and building out of businesses/projects, and the closure/abandonment of same.

As stated in one introductory document, 'The Logistics Hub initiative represents the next stage in the evolution of Jamaica's airports, seaports and industrial infrastructure to position Jamaica as a major node in the global supply chain.'

Put more simply, 'A market of 800 million people, including the USA and Brazil, can be accessed readily from Jamaica.'

What Jamaica hopes to do is use its beautiful accident of geography in the Americas to be like the centre sprocket in a bicycle wheel with the spokes of trade and movement of goods pointing to South America, North America, Caricom, Africa and Western Europe.

As the various technocrats spoke candidly, my first thought was that with so many people of such 'high learning, training and professionalism', there can be only one outcome other than a tower of Babel -- success at the highest level.

As stated in another brochure, 'To develop as a global logistics hub requires the coordinated development of world-class warehouses, factories, logistics zones, ports, airports, extensive marine and air connectivity to regional markets, a robust telecommunication platform, IT, other supporting infrastructure, energy-efficient supplies, logistics professionals and providers, enabling legislation and trade agreements in a business-friendly environment.'

The first phase would involve galvanising the public and private sector into the required mode employing Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) based on a Master Plan. The second phase would be the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure such as the expansion of our ports, airports for cargo handling and expanding on factory space. The third phase would be the creation of a unique brand through aggressive marketing and the establishment of top-quality value-added services such as assembly, packing and kitting.

To me, one bugbear in the system would be the lack of joined-up governance, that is, various powerful ministers with bloated egos going off on individual, exploratory adventures which would tend the undermine this 'tectonic shift' in Jamaica's overall development. This calls for strong leadership from prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

The other would be the lack of an educated workforce to tap into the huge employment opportunities that will certainly open up.

There are three main logistics nodes existing now -- Singapore, Rotterdam and Dubai. Where Singapore and Rotterdam had made adequate preparation in terms of broad education and training its population, with Dubai it was significantly different, in that 70% of the personnel working at the Dubai Hub are foreigners.

We cannot afford for this to happen to us.

With the expansion of the Panama Canal set for 2015, we need to begin now. It is pretty much accepted that the brightest and the best of our high school students tend to study law and medicine at university level. I believe that this is so for mainly two reasons.

The first is the fear of mathematics due to the awful teaching of it in our primary and high schools.

The second is, there are many examples of doctors and lawyers living a good life and getting respect in the society, while the achievements of engineers, scientists, urban planners, architects and other technical personnel tend to be overlooked by the youngsters in high schools. Added to that is the reality that our best graduates in technical areas tend to emigrate after a few years of frustration in finding livable, payable employment.

The Jamaican Logistics Hub must be seen as tied in to the work of Minister Paulwell in reducing the use of expensive fossil fuels in our electricity generation. It must also be tied into the education ministry gaining a new appreciation for the demand for technical education for our youngsters.

More importantly, both political parties represented in Parliament need to maintain their convergence of goals on this 'tectonic shift' in Jamaica's development, as there can be no guarantee that the PNP will hold power in 2016.

observemark@gmail.com

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