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JET seeks PAAC's help on Goat Islands

Tuesday, February 25, 2014    

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THE Jamaica Environment Trust has turned to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) for help in getting the Government to disclose information on proposals from China for the construction of a trans-shipment hub on the Goat Islands.

In a letter to Chairman Edmund Bartlett last week, JET noted that it "has repeatedly called for public consultation and much more information without success". The Government recently turned down a request from the Trust to provide information on the Chinese proposals.

"There has been no update on this process to date, although we are aware that CHEC (China Harbour Engineering Company) has submitted an application to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for a beach licence to conduct geotechnical surveys in the vicinity of the two Goat Islands, and Professor Gordon Shirley announced that the Goat Islands port would go ahead, at a symposium held on the logistics hubs on January 21, 2014," stated JET's chief executive officer, Diana McCaulay.

"In view of the beach licence application and Professor Shirley's announcement, we believe this matter is being fast-tracked, so the matter is urgent," JET concluded. Professor Gordon Shirley is the head of the Port Authority of Jamaica.

JET confirmed that it had received a letter from Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips in response to its request for documents on those deliberations, under the Access to Information Act, denying them access. The letter cited the exemption clause in the Act on premature disclosures which could affect the economy, as the reason for the denial.

JET informed Bartlett that it had submitted a number of Access to Information requests "to a range of Government agencies, most of whom had no information at all.

"The Port Authority denied access to the Memorandum of Agreement with CHEC and their technical proposal. We have appealed this denial and are awaiting a hearing date," the letter to the PAAC chairman said.

"We are particularly interested in knowing what other sites were considered, and why they were rejected; the precise location of the port; the amount of sea grass beds and coral reefs that will be adversely affected; and the net benefits to Jamaica, and so on," it added.

JET also pointed out that Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies had promised Parliament a decision on the issue by January this year, and that there would be a Development Framework Agreement with CHEC until April 24, 2014.

JET suggested that the PAAC also request presentations from the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, the Port Authority, NEPA, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation and the fisherfolk and other stakeholders in Old Harbour.

Opposition Member of Parliament Gregory Mair, who had previously tabled a motion asking that the matter be referred to its Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, told the Observer last Thursday that he was not concerned about which committee deals with the issue, as long as it is dealt with urgently.

"I am surprised that after a week, it was not sent to the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, as a matter of urgency," Mair remarked.

— Balford Henry

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