MINISTER of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton has urged the public to exercise patience in making a judgement on the proposed development of Goat Islands as a trans-shipment and logistics port.
Hylton also said that plans for the establishment of the $10-billion logistics hub, fully utilising benefits expected to accrue from the re-opening of an expanded Panama Canal in 2015, would not be affected even if the Goat Islands project is not implemented.
"We hope it does, but it has to go through, like all other investment projects of this nature, all of the processes for development, including an environmental impact assessment," Hylton told a press briefing at his ministry in New Kingston, last Friday.
"I would want to urge that the jury not be called in and there be a verdict without the evidence. In time, I believe all the stakeholders will have an opportunity to say what they have to say. But, for the Government, it has to be based on evidence, and clear evidence, on the work that attends an environmental impact assessment, which must be done, and will be done," he added.
Hylton said there was nothing else he could say on the Goat Islands proposal at this time, as it is a project of the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing.
On the issue of the logistics hub, a priority of his ministry, he said that he could not give the timelines being demanded by the public and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), but he assured the press that there was more global investor interest in it than the country was aware of.
Hylton said all he could disclose, at this time, was that Cabinet will shortly make its decision on a preferred bidder for the Caymanas Economic Zone and, when that has been determined, an announcement will be made and the work will proceed, as quickly as possible.
But, in terms of the concerns over investor interest, and issues highlighted by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) monitoring team last week, he said that there was interests from all parts of the world, and Jamaica, as well.
"I assure the public that the investment in the logistics hub is broad-based. The investor interests come from various parts of the world, and in all aspects of the hub," he told the briefing.
"I might add to it our local investors, who are very interested. I should say to you that a lot more are interested, a lot more is being done than the public is aware of," he insisted.
He suggested that the lack of information could be attributed to the failure of the investors to make their interests public.
"These are private investments, and it is up to the private investors to speak to them and, I believe, based upon what I am told, that some of them will be making their projects and programmes public in the not-too-distant future," he stateded.
Turning to concerns over job possibilities for Jamaicans, he admitted that there were cultural and systemic practices which could be a hindrance, but cautioned that in a globalising world integration is occurring worldwide "across cultures, across systems and across practices".
"You are going to have investors from different quarters, not just from China, coming with different practices," he explained. "You are going to have these kinds of issues that we are going to have to work through, and so we anticipate that not just with the China investors, but other investors who are coming and will participate in what we are building, we will have these issues to contend with," he stated.
Hylton said that the public should not rush into judgment on the issue of the ratio of Jamaican workers to foreign workers, who will benefit from jobs created in the hub. He also insisted that the major point that he has been making, and which he believes has been misunderstood, is that the country must get its people ready for the jobs, and they must have "world class training and world class standards" to be employed in the hub.
"The logistic hub is a global asset, so there can't be two standards; there can't be a Jamaican standard and a global standard. It is one standard, a global standard... We will be integrating Jamaica into the global economy in the most direct way, dealing with the connectivity to the hub and the integrated activities with the global value chain and supply chain, which will link us into the global training system and the global production system," he stated.
"So, it is very important that we place due emphasis on training our people to a world class standard, which can be the only standard," he added.
"Having done that, I think we can be assured that our people will be employed in significant numbers, and we know that, because already there is a protocol which has been worked out with the Chinese contractors already here, CHEC. The Norman Manley project, for example, had a protocol with a ratio of local to Chinese workers," he explained.
"But, I think that it is important to say that, even as we will push forward to maximize employment by our people, this particular approach to the logistics hub, and the investments in it, is different from what we are traditionally used to. These are not Government-funded projects and, therefore, the investors who will carry all the risks -- financial risks, commercial risks, operational risks -- to make sure that their investments are protected.
"... We can't lose sight of the fact that this is not simply available in Jamaica and providing much needed impact on the economy, including jobs: It is, after, all a foreign direct investment in our economy, and so the foreign investor will want to ensure that some of their people are involved, if for no other reason than to ensure their own quality control and that their management systems are in place.
"That needs to be clearly understood: That the Chinese, or any other nationality who invest, may want to, and our investment rules allows for it, to bring with them management and their own skilled workers."
The minister said, too, that there ought not to be any undue fear that Jamaican workers will be displaced, but he insisted that the primary obligation of Jamaica is to make sure that there is a trained workforce, and once that is in place, the country can "demand and command" job placements in whatever sector and whatever activity is available.
He said that there a tremendous amount of work is currently being done within various ministries, because the hub is a multi-agency and multi ministerial project.
He noted that the oversight committee, headed by Professor Gordon Shirley, will be working with the Government. However, Shirley's involvement has been delayed until he is fully engaged later this month, when he leaves the University of the West Indies and becomes fully employed by the Government as coordinator of the project.
Hylton said that one of that committee's most critical roles will be to ensure that "all the moving parts come together", including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, which are also involved in the process.
"Indeed, all of the Government will have to come together in a co-ordinated way and, for that, Cabinet has already decided on a logistics hub committee of Cabinet that will focus on the decision making activities," he stated.