I bet my husband that before the interview was over, the minister of industry, investment and commerce Anthony Hylton would become very agitated and leave the set in a huff. I'm not sure if that happened, for my husband is not a betting man and I fell asleep during that Direct interview on Wednesday night.
Perhaps it was the minister's relentless repetition of the words "proposal" and "document" and "works ministry" that lulled me to sleep while he communicated that the Government is considering turning over the Goat Islands to Chinese investors for development. "It's just a proposal," he kept insisting, when Garfield Burford patiently prodded him on the Chinese interest, and no, he's "never seen the document", he kept saying, when Burford asked him where this grand idea for a logistics hub came from.
What we know for sure is that the minister does not have a full grasp of the details because, as he explained many times, the project concerns the port and so it is the Ministry of Works and Transport which would be privy to the more salient details.
If Minister Hylton intended to explain to television audiences the magnitude and economic potential of the logistics hub, then he failed miserably, for we are more sure than ever that he cannot possibly pilot this US$1.4-billion investment into Jamaica. If our leaders can't properly explain it to us Jamaicans in our own language, then how were they able to sell it to the Chinese who, in all aspects of culture, language and discipline, are as different from us as night is to day?
Somewhere between presenting the logistics hub as an investment opportunity — using our strategic location between the Americas for expanded ports from which value-added goods produced in local commercial and industrialised zones would be trans-shipped -- China's requirement for space for hub development activity has moved from several hundred acres to 3,000 acres (what you would get when you 'push down' that limestone mountain on Goat Island), and we have become very suspicious that they may want to use it to build a private city just off our shores.
In addition to which, our local tree-huggers and the like want the combined 900 acres of the Goat Islands to remain a real-life-sized vivarium. A what? We no more visit the newly and fabulously refurbished zoo and botanical gardens at Hope than we will a coral reef and the habitat of aquatic and other animal species. My guy in Old Harbour, SkyFish, says his father used to rear goats on the island "until dem tief off every last one of dem". The future of Goat Islands, if they remain as they are, is clear.
While the Goat Islands now exist in plain view of residents and visitors to Old Harbour, Jamaica's fastest-growing community, the "proposal" might render this abandoned bit of 'The Rock' impenetrable to the gaze and access of our own people (who, by the way, for the most part, have pointedly ignored the Goat Islands since the Americans raised their flag there in 1941 after acquiring them as a naval base from Great Britain), but what we know for sure is this: it takes cash to care.
The problem is not that the Chinese want Goat Islands and Jamaica needs the money. The problem is that our leaders are ill-equipped to harness and manage our natural resources and magnificent talents and, instead, let them lie in eternal fallow, corrupt them, or allow outsiders to exploit them, and our environmentalists and environmental scientists, for all of their very good intentions, might be getting in the way of the 1.1 million of us who go unemployed, underemployed or have just plain given up on getting a job.
If we get it right, if we really get it right as Singapore and Dubai and Rotterdam have with their logistic ports, then the Goat Islands might just be the price we must pay for turning this country around.
Ironically, in all of this, it is 'Runwiddit' himself, 'the master of loose lips' who has spoken most clearly on the matter. What we've heard from the transport and works minister, Dr Omar Davies, is this: "The greatest enemy to the environment is abject poverty." We agree.