For whom the road tolls, it tolls for us!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

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THE opening of the Linstead, St Catherine, to Moneague, St Ann, leg of the North/South highway at the height of our 52nd Independence celebrations offers us a unique opportunity to come to our senses.

We need to forego the childish prattle -- which is a national sport, by the way -- about whether the tollway is a gift or not. Left to Jamaica, the highway, completed four years behind schedule, would still be a pipe dream. It is a gift from the Chinese to the people of Jamaica by whatever name we choose to call it.

The project was started during the previous People's National Party (PNP) Administration by French firm Bouygues, which detected geotechnical problems with the terrain composed of unstable limestone and shale material. That and other problems resulted in the firm pulling out of the project, after the Jamaican Government had spent US$120 million.

With the change of Government in 2007, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration, through former Works Minister Mike Henry, inked a deal with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and the project was rescued.

The entire North/South highway -- which also includes a leg from Caymanas to Linstead, bypassing the troublesome Bog Walk Gorge in St Catherine and another from Moneague to Ocho Rios, St Ann -- will cost US$730 million upon completion in the first quarter of 2016.

Under one of the most generous financing arrangements we have seen, CHEC will put up the rest of the money and reimburse the Jamaican Government the US$120 million it paid to Bouygues over the life of the project. The Chinese firm will own the project for 50 years, after which it reverts to Jamaica.

As a further sweetener, CHEC has presented six engineering scholarships to Jamaican students to study at the Honai University in China.

There might be among us some so foolish as to believe that our support for China in international fora is so valuable that it is equal or more in value to the massive outlay on the highway. But we better grow up fast and smell the coffee.

We must also come to our senses about playing political football with national infrastructural projects. Specifically, we point to the really disappointing suggestion by Mr Mike Henry who chastised his colleagues at the opening of the highway for not claiming the success of the project.

His foolish position, thankfully, was not adopted by Mr Horace Chang et al, who rightfully struck a blow for unity of purpose in his speech at the ceremony at Treadways on the eve of Independence Day.

Perhaps Mr Henry needs to be reminded that governments are elected by the people to act on their behalf. Of course, Mr Henry is, by implication, harking back to the days when one administration would abandon a project started by the previous, which helped to wreck our country by wasting its resources.

Clearly, he wanted kudos for not abandoning the highway after he became works minister.

We expect that all Jamaicans will benefit from the highway, and we join Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in urging local business interests to seize the economic opportunities that will flow from the new development.




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