Is there sufficient Jamaican involvement in Chinese construction projects?

Is there sufficient Jamaican involvement in Chinese construction projects?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

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The Michael Manley-led Government of Jamaica in the 1970s initiated close Sino-Jamaica relationship on the basis of the "One China" policy which has been adhered to since then by successive governments.

China has never forgotten this valuable support, and when it was asserting its new status as a global superpower, it chose Jamaica as its diplomatic platform in the Caribbean, by increasing development aid to the island and the region.

Aid started as grants and donations of buildings and this was the prelude to providing loans to finance construction projects carried out by Chinese companies, notably China Harbour, which have successfully completed several infrastructure projects and buildings.

Chinese loans are made on condition that the construction be done by Chinese firms. This type of arrangement is called "tied aid" and was pioneered by the British, Americans and Europeans. Nothing wrong, because both the donor and the beneficiary gain and it makes it easy for electorates in developed countries to accept helping the poor outside their country when the resources are needed by the poor within their own country.

The question arises as to what extent are Jamaican workers, engineers and architects involved in the construction projects? This has emerged as a contentious issue wherever China has financed and constructed projects, including in the Caribbean and Africa. There are several considerations.

China is entitled to tie its loans to the employment of Chinese companies and they naturally have engineers, architects and even some skilled workers whom they have used on projects across the world.

If a country frowns on such arrangements it does not have to do business with the Chinese. However, the Chinese come with financing that is among the most inexpensive and they do have a record of completing projects on budget, even where other foreign or local companies have failed.

This still leaves the issue of whether the Chinese are using Chinese to do jobs that can be done by Jamaicans.

Jamaica has all the skills necessary for any type of construction, and it is clear that using Jamaicans would be advantageous as they have knowledge of and experience of the local conditions. Employment of locals obviates the cost of bringing Chinese to Jamaica and gets around the language problems. Perhaps the best of all situations is to find an appropriate blend of Chinese and Jamaicans.

The guidelines must be to use Chinese only where necessary, and it is the duty of the Government of Jamaica to ensure that this is written into the construction contracts with Chinese companies and monitored by only issuing work permits when a case has been justified. We must also insist on outsourcing to local contractors and suppliers.

In regard to the issue of Jamaican involvement in construction projects financed and executed by Chinese companies, we do not usually have enough details to make a useful comment. However, while we are happy with the Chinese largesse, there is need for our Government to be astute in drafting of contracts on construction projects, to ensure that we get as many benefits as possible for Jamaicans.

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