News

Stalled!

Minister says no fiscal space

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 13, 2017



Transport Minister Mike Henry yesterday disclosed that funding for the construction of the proposed $8.5-billion transport centre in Portmore, St Catherine, has not yet been allocated.

According to Henry, the Government is facing a challenge of “finding fiscal space” for the project. “So I'm looking for whatever intervention I can... It's very important to the Portmore residents, to the development of the transport system economically, because we're having the Portmore Transport Centre repackaged in a certain way that we could look to use hybrid vehicles to eliminate the high cost of fuel and conditions for climate change.”

The planned transport centre was announced in Parliament in April 2015 by then Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies.

Davies, in his contribution to the sectoral debate, told the House that the Government had inked a conditional build and design agreement with the same Belgian consortium that built the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre in January 2008.

But yesterday, Henry told the Jamaica Observer that there were issues as they relate to government funding.

The minister said that all the facilities and financing, as far as he knows, are in place, but the fiscal space that will enable him to act is lacking.

He expressed hope that the financing will be approved by the next supplementary [budget], even though that means that time will be lost and the loan facility will likely lose out on “good” interest rates.

At the same time, he noted that the goal is to remove the Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses from Government's subsidy list by converting the fleet to battery-driven and subsequently hybrid.

“The highest cost it has is the fuel, and that keeps moving up. Fuel prices are volatile, so I'm trying to take us out of that. It's very important, in my estimation, to the long-term development of the country. And we must not forget that in all of that planning is that if you don't get to work comfortably and not sweating then you're not going to be productive,” Henry said.

“The status is that I'm waiting on the Ministry of Finance and all the various issues that have to be gone through to approve the project that I can move to get it into supplementary estimates as urgently as possible in the interest of all the travelling public and the economic growth of the country,” he told the Observer.

The transport centre, which is to be modelled after the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre, is expected to facilitate better service planning for the State-owned bus company and optimise the service provided for the numerous routes which it operates between Portmore and Half-Way-Tree and downtown Kingston.

A terms of reference feasibility study for the project submitted in 2015 said it is anticipated that the transport hub could serve to encourage some commuters who now travel via private transportation to use the public transportation system.

“An improvement in the service could result in a reduction in the number of motor vehicles that travel between Portmore and Kingston and St Andrew, an overall reduction in traffic congestion, reduction in the levels of emission among other positive externalities,” the document said.

The transport centre is to be built on undeveloped land at the Portmore Town Centre.

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