Government dismisses uncertainty about Goat Islands project

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

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THE Government said yesterday that there is no ambivalence about proceeding with the proposed plan by the Chinese Government to turn the Goat Islands into an economic zone and trans-shipment port.

In fact, Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies referred to the controversial project by what could easily be assumed to be its official name: The Portland Bight Economic Zone and Transshipment Port.

“The Administration does not pretend that it is ambivalent about the project. We want to implement it,” Davies told cheering Government members of Parliament in the House of Representatives, yesterday.

The minister, who was speaking in the Sectoral Debate, said that both Jamaica and China are seriously engaged in carrying out the necessary preliminary work for the implementation of the project.

He assured the House that on Monday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and his two junior ministers met with Dr Hailand Song, chairman and president of Chinese company ZPMC, at the Office of the Prime Minister.

Davies explained that ZPMC manufactures 70 per cent of the world's cranes used in transshipment ports. He said that ZPMC is seriously considering establishing a manufacturing facility in the new economic zone to fabricate the cranes for the Caribbean and Latin American markets.

He noted that over the past year much has been said and written about the proposed China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) investment, but that he had deliberately refrained from joining the debate.

He dismissed much of the debate as “erroneous claims and some questionable assertions”.

He described the project as a major transport and logistics hub serving regional and international markets. “CHEC is currently working on the detailed technical and feasibility studies, while the Port Authority is evaluating the proposed conditionalities,” he said.

The Government signed an initial non-binding framework agreement with CHEC on March 21.

Davies said that CHEC will submit terms of reference to the National Environment and Planning Agency for the approval to commence the environmental impact assessment.

This phase will include final designs and is expected to take approximately nine months. Despite the minister's optimism, a number of non-governmental environment bodies, including the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), have been promoting a “Save Goat Islands” campaign.

The environmental groups have indicated that they are opposed to the construction of any large industrial or commercial facility in Jamaica's most protected area of land and sea, without the required due diligence and public consultation.

But yesterday the minister assured that, while the preliminary work is proceeding, all regulatory processes will be followed. He said there has been no attempt to bypass any steps, and that only when the approvals are in place, Cabinet will make a final decision.

“However, let me make it unambiguously clear: For a host of reasons, we are serious about implementing this project,” he insisted.

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