THE emerging confrontation on the environment and development of Goat Islands must be confronted and resolved with great urgency. Indeed, there was no need for it to happen, if the Government had followed the clearly laid out multi-modal plan that was left by the previous administration in the Ministry of Transport, and coming from the Economic Council of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government.
This very thoughtful plan, which connected road, rail, sea, and air, clearly pointed out that the Chinese (and I so advised them) should be confined, in the first instance, to Fort Augusta, which would have been adequate for the first phase of the expansion of the Kingston Container Terminal (KCT).
Dredging for KCT was an urgent and immediate need, without which the port would not be ready in time for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal. I also discussed with them Vernamfield and Caymanas Free Zone.
The dredging and the expansion of Fort Augusta, together with the investments of shipping companies like CMA/CGM and ZIM, et al, would send the needed investment signals, and with the JLP's privatisation model of floating a shareholding company for the KCT and opening up investments from users of the port, this would let everyone know we were serious. This, of course, was while we held most of the knife's handle with a stable dollar and pending growth.
As the multi-modal plan shows, the more urgent development which would give us the edge would be the development of Vernamfield. For, I repeat, the only advantage we have that's not available to our competitor countries is a sea-to-air connection, not an internally competitive and large port which will take years to build.
Indeed, the agreement I was pursuing with the Chinese and other Far and Middle Eastern investors was this form of development, while I was also pursuing with local companies, a joint venture between the Port Authority and local and overseas private developers.
This new proposed "enclave" investment will fail to integrate the Jamaican economy into its development stream and offers serious challenges, not the least of which is port security.
Let me remind all that a logistics facility is only a spoke in the overall transport hub, and when you involve an air connection, like at Vernamfield (close to 6,000 acres), you have ample land and air space to meet the first logistics hub cargo phase that the canal brings.
And with corridors of undeveloped lands along the toll roads, we have enough initial land space to integrate free zones into the local economy and accommodate growth. This while we look at other underdeveloped ports -- from Cow Bay to Jackson Bay and beyond, just as we would develop Port Esquivel as an energy port to complement the plan; and indeed link Port Esquivel to Jamaican companies' port development plan (I have seen the plans) for St Catherine and looked further at Dr Lloyd Cole's proposal.
Of course, capitalisation of the rail connection from the KCT to Vernamfield -- think what a high-speed cargo train would take from port to air -- would be an imperative.
Isolating our needed port development by an 'enclave' investment is not the way to go, and will delay our development and make us miss the boat. The critical things at this time include finding the US$150 million needed for the KCT expansion, rebuilding the Mother White Bridge in St Andrew to carry heavy cargo, and re-establishing the rail link to Vernamfield; then making Vernamfield the priority, as the other aerodromes are at their limits and cannot accommodate the larger cargo or passenger planes being built; and capitalise on open skies.
The continued child-like political game of taking a piece at a time and seeking to claim by name, projects which need to be acted on now, is costing us dearly. Time is running out.
The Government must face urgent realities which, if not addressed, will set us back for decades. The Chinese Government's investments are still intended to create jobs for their people (and I knew this). Our hope, in my opinion, rests in the model I was consciously pursuing when I brought China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on board; working strategically with a family of economic countries.
My choices for this broad development for a mix of countries were:
1. France: signed for port expansion and keeping Bouygues here
2. UK/USA/Canada: pursued to develop rail (signed MOU left)
3. China: roads and port (MOUs left)
4. South America: airports and air links
5. Africa: air links to the Far East -- to eliminate the eggs in one basket issue (and expand on open skies).
We must also take very seriously, the warnings about the safety of Chinese citizens in Jamaica, especially as their numbers are likely to increase quite dramatically with the Chinese policy of Chinese investment.
So, if we do not parallel local job growth -- which is not on the horizon -- with the new loan agreements, which portends more Chinese labour and less local sub-contractors, what will emerge will only escalate the problems, and we will more than likely lose the investments.
What then can we do? I urge the prime minister to immediately place these projects and the overall plan under her watch, as the splintering between ministries is guaranteed to ensure failure. This is self-evident by the non-inclusion of the other ministers who have portfolio responsibility for road, rail, sea, air, and industry, in the talks in China. This approach has failed in the past, and will fail again.
We must act now, as the competition is fast catching up and passing us. If the Government is unable to understand what needs to be done, then perhaps it should consult further on these issues before moving on or seek a new mandate so that the serious environmental and security issues can be made the business of the people.
— Mike Henry is the member of parliament for Central Clarendon and former transport minister