MINISTER of transport, works and housing, Dr Omar Davies, has urged environmentalists and members of the public who have objected to the US$1.5-billion proposed port and industrial park (logistics hub) development of Goat Islands to offer solutions for creating jobs for Jamaicans.
The future of Jamaica depends on the availability of cheap electrical power, industrial development and the ability to move goods and people easily across the island. With the understanding that the logistics hub may be our very last opportunity to solve the unemployment, balance of payment and crime problems in one fell swoop, I offer the following suggestion.
This is not a new idea, but one which was proposed as far back as 2008, having to do with a five-year plan which would see to its fruition the development of Port Esquivel and its environs as a transshipment freezone hub and which would resuscitate the railway and re-establish it as the commuter and industrial transportation corridor of Jamaica.
And it will leave the Goat Islands and their flora, fauna, and fish undisturbed.
Perhaps they missed it, but the China Harbour Engineering Company (which proposed the Goat Islands hub) needs to be pointed to that sweet spot, those five miles of Clarendon shoreline which stretch between Port Esquivel to the north and the Rocky Point spur to the south. They should be encouraged by the large bauxite companies, the ethanol plant and the feed plant which have already positioned their global export points there.
Behind the shoreline, south of Inverness, east of Hayes, north of Lionel Town and west of the Salt River Bay, lie thousands of idle acres covered in cassia-macka green fields. The area is blessed with one of the largest fresh water sources that runs underground until it surfaces at Port Esquivel.
The area adjoins one of the largest JPS power plants and has access to a small airstrip that can easily be extended to meet any executive travel in and out of the commercial area.
May I suggest that the Government acquire and provide a long-term lease to the investors, free of cost (yes, free), for this large swath of mainland acreage (yes, all transshipment and industrialisation activities must be done on the mainland) needed for a logistics hub. In exchange for this rent-free acreage the investors would agree to re-establish the railroad from Downtown Kingston into Port Bustamante, and through to Montego Bay; as well as to the construction and commissioning of two 350-megawatt coal power electricity generating plants, one each at Port Esquivel and Mount Pelier.
The logistics hub would concern itself with using our strategic location between the Americas and the added advantage of native English (the international language of business) for the usual activities of international transshipment, transloading, consolidation and deconsolidation of cargo and containers (fees from which would be earned by the Chinese to pay for the development of the port). But the light industry activity usually associated with a logistics hub -- producing value-added goods -- would take place in industrial centres and towns along the re-established railway corridor leading into and out of Port Esquivel.
The first step towards Jamaica's modernisation is to put a railway system in place that would transport freight and commuters back and forth along the rail corridor. Along the route, in those small communities which have access to the railways, new local and international investors would be invited to create industries that would benefit from access to our people (our greatest resource); cheap power and access to the railway (the cheapest way of transporting goods over land).
One such industry is the call centre business: using one of the largest, most educated communities of Jamaicans who reside in Portmore and moving them to and from work via the rail line, comes to mind.
In addition to transporting passengers and taking the load off the road, the railway would be used to transport cargo back and forth to centres which import components for all items which would then be assembled here in Jamaica and exported as value-added goods (such as cars, bicycles, household appliances, medical equipment, locomotives, etc) to South and Central American markets.
Take the case of a Chinese manufacturer of televisions. Rather than assembling the complete televisions in China and having to wait some 45 days before they get to Jamaica, and are then sent further south, component parts are shipped to Jamaica until the Chinese company receives an order for televisions.
The televisions are then assembled here and in less than 10 days (compared to the 45-plus days from China) the order reaches its North or South American wholesale buyer. The savings resulting from not tying up a great deal of money in inventory would be an attractive option to global manufacturers.
A third possible industry is pork, for the feeding of China's two billion people. Every unemployed person, given the opportunity, could grow 1,000 pigs during the course of the year. The idea is to import from Brazil cheap feed, sell it to the farmers and buy back the pork products from them at plants set up along the corridor to process the meats for export to Europe and China.
A fourth industry is the development of the 50 billion tonnes of limestone reserves that Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell recently told Parliament had been identified across the island and for which the Government is hoping to attract investors to develop.
The very "high grade" dolomite limestone, which can be found in the hills above Angels, is used in the manufacturing of steel worldwide. With cheap energy, the most expensive product made from limestone is precipitated calcium carbonate, which is used in almost every modern manufactured item.
We're not short of ideas and resources to develop. Investors would run a little faster and take up the offer in Jamaica if their factories and plants along the corridor were the responsibility of the host country (may I recommend using the Jamaica Defence Force) and if there were cheap power for processing and to develop value-added industries.
And so, enter the coal-powered electricity plants which would be located at Mt Pelier and Port Esquivel. Running on either side of the rail corridor would be water and power lines to supply the needs of the various industrial and mining enterprises.
Running the coal plant power lines parallel to the railway lines would also ensure that cheap electrical power (at less than 12 cents per kwh, coal remains the cheapest form of energy) is available along the corridor, and since our existing railway lines either run over or run close by every major river in Jamaica, charging the water supply pipelines for producers along the corridors would not be difficult.
The point is that a transportation, energy, water, and communication infrastructure would be created to attract new businesses which would in turn create job opportunities -- the likes of which we have never seen before and may never again — for skilled and unskilled workers. How would the Chinese investors be repaid for this?
Easy. The three per cent tax that the Government would normally receive from the limestone mining industry and the export of limestone products would be reverted to the Chinese investors. This would more than pay for the cost of the coal plants and rail systems over an extended period of time — 20 years, perhaps.
And how do we make it happen? Quickly.
Once the Government negotiates with the Chinese and comes to a decision, they must put together a small team — a group of about five people, including ministers Paulwell and Davies — appointed by the Cabinet who will circumvent all bureaucracy and take it straight to Cabinet for approval.