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Mair left at sea

JLP MPs don’t support his motion for stalling Goat Islands project

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014    

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A lack of support from Opposition members of Parliament for a motion from their colleague, Gregory Mair, seeking to stall the proposed Goat Islands negotiations, is expected to lead to its withdrawal from the order paper of the House of Representatives.

The motion should have been debated yesterday, but the debate was postponed. Mair, who represents North East St Catherine, was conspicuously absent from Gordon House for yesterday's sitting.

It now seems very unlikely that the motion will be taken. The reason seems to be Mair's failure to convince his Jamaica Labour Party colleagues to support his call for the Government to put on hold any final agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a logistics hub/trans-shipment port on the Goat Islands, pending a review of their MOU with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) by the House's Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee.

This reflects a change in the Opposition's position on the issue since the assurance from minister of transport, works and housing, Dr Omar Davies, in a statement to the House on February 25, that as soon as CHEC has presented the preliminary designs, the PAJ would facilitate an environmental impact assessment (EIA) after consultations with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

In the "prayer" of his motion, which was on yesterday's agenda for debate, Mair suggested that the issue be referred to the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee for review; and that the Government, in the meantime, put on hold any final agreement with CHEC for the development of the hub/trans-shipment port.

Last night, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness told the Jamaica Observer that the party is in support of the development of the hub/trans-shipment port on condition that there is no environmental threat to the Portland Bight Protected Area.

"The situation has changed with the statement to the House from the minister. Our support is only conditional of the EIA showing any threat to the protected area," Holness said last night.

Both Opposition spokesman on industry and commerce, Karl Samuda, and spokesman on finance and planning, Audley Shaw, seemed in line with the view expressed by Holness.

"It (the project) is very essential to the country's development, as long as we have the environmental impact assessment done," Samuda said.

Shaw said he was standing by the position he took at last week's meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), that the Opposition supports the project.

"This has nothing to do with politics," he insisted. "It has to do with the economic development of the country."

Mair told the Observer recently that he would have been willing to withdraw his motion, pending the intervention of the PAAC. However, while PAAC Chairman Edmund Bartlett has been able to convince his committee to accept the Jamaica Environment Trust's position that the details of the MOU should be reviewed, there is no agreement that it would be done within the four-week timeline left for an agreement between the PAJ and CHEC.

Now it seems very unlikely that he will have the support of either the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, the PAAC, or even his Opposition colleagues in the House of Representatives.

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