Tell the whole story of bauxiteSunday, January 09, 2022
The recent announcement by the National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) restricting Noranda Bauxite to 16 per cent of its application for a mining lease in an area described as Special Mining Lease (SML) 173 is entirely within the remit of the National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) to act in what it considers to be in the national interest.
No doubt that there will be some conjecture as to whether the noisy objections and public outcry raised mainly by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and its supporters were allowed to influence the deliberations.
Notwithstanding this observation, however, it was made plain during the briefing that the application to mine inside the SML173, which was meticulously prepared and advanced by the bauxite company, and the case against as proffered mainly by the environmental lobby and other anti-mining interests constituted the primary body of facts which were laid on the table.
Public outcry is often an emotional reaction, without balanced argument, and unless evidenced otherwise should never be used as premise for judicial treatment or verdict in any matter.
Over many years the environment lobby has presented case after case against the industry alleging loss of livelihoods, callous behaviour, massive environment destruction, health deterioration, piracy, water contamination, forestry and land degradation, sell-out to foreign interests, and other 'sins' amounting to an insult to the thousands of Jamaicans who have worked in the industry and contributed much to Jamaica's social and economic development over 70 years.
These arguments, minus the diatribe, must be taken into account. After all, the mining lease issue is a public matter, and objections and concerns have been a major contributor to help to guide remedial action in driving change and improvements to the industry's environmental policies.
Bauxite mining, as with any other mining of any sort, can cause dusting and other forms of nuisance, but what the environmentalists have traditionally failed to do is to acknowledge that the Jamaican bauxite industry, more than any other bauxite operations in the world, has put its money where its mouth is in terms of environment procedures.
Local companies spend millions on environment controls, land rehabilitation, dust mitigation, forestry and heritage sites protection, industrial safety, anti-COVID-19 protocols and public hospitals emergency assistance, recycling, joint coastal clean-ups, and ex-gratia compensation as prescribed under the Mining Act, and these actions are an integral part of their operating policies.
Environmentalists also love to point to the mined-out depressions left behind on the mining landscape without acknowledging or admitting that these pits are invariably filled in from top soil saved during mining, and that in recent years depressions are now being shaped and contoured to avoid the sharp perpendicular pit sides that characterised some of the more rocky areas.
Environmentalist lobbyists have also used the argument through public outcry that bauxite mining has destroyed so much of Jamaica without leaving any chance of a return to agriculture, whereas the truth is that restored lands have been returned to productive uses, including farming, housing, community playing fields, water reservoirs, and the constant expansion of greenhouse farming.
Of interest, a 2007 study revealed that since 1952 only about 7,400 hectares, or less than 0.75 per cent of Jamaica's over one million hectares land space, had been disturbed by bauxite mining. With the intermittent operations closures and market reductions since then, I venture to say that those statistics have not shown any dramatic change.
The Government is on record as maintaining foreign direct investment as a key driver for economic growth, and in recent years we know has undertaken macroeconomic reforms that have improved our investment climate. Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted at the opening of the Ocean Eden Bay hotel on December 9 that the Government continues to create a positive and resilient fiscal environment and is working to significantly improve ease of doing business and the efficiency of the public bureaucracy, which will create an environment that facilitates greater investment opportunities.
Foreign investment offers capital expenditure which, in turn, provides employment, generates income, brings in much-needed foreign exchange, and helps to balance the budget.
Mutual trust, confidence, and respect are the operative words, as no amount of tax breaks or incentives can woo an investor without the confidence factor and solid reputation of a trusted host.
The question that follows, therefore, must be: Does Jamaica need foreign investment? Yes, we certainly do. Export or die was the call issued by then Industry Minister P J Patterson in the 1970s. Right now it's invest or die. The push towards local and foreign investment is of equal importance. We need every single investment dollar we can earn at this time of scarce foreign exchange, a devalued dollar, and a runaway novel coronavirus wave.
Investors are important and, providing they meet legal and ethical conditions, we should offer and assure them a friendly investment environment that's encouraging and helpful.
I had more than a ringside seat during the 1970s when investor trust and confidence in the Government fled out of the window with the sudden and unilateral declaration of the bauxite levy, repatriation of bauxite lands, and strictest bauxite operating regulations imposed by then Prime Minister Michael Manley on the morning of the announcement, May 15, 1974.
The companies were stunned. The giant corporations ran scared. Three of the companies, including Kaiser, took the unprecedented step of taking the dispute to the World Bank's' International Centre of Investment Dispute.
It was at that point, and in an extraordinary display of willingness to stay the course under a tension filled atmosphere, that one company, Kaiser Bauxite, stepped back and put into motion a process at the highest level of negotiation, framed totally by a deep-seated belief in the ethics of partnership, trust, and mutual agreement.
And, as Kaiser decided to enter further negotiations beyond the levy regarding land repatriation and ownership participation, board President Cornell Maier declared that, “What we seek in Jamaica is not land, it's bauxite. We believe that ownership of bauxite lands can be good for Jamaica and for the company.”
It was against this background that the impasse was broken, and the two sides sat down all that summer to formulate an agreement under the new regulations.
“We agreed,” said Maier, “as we had agreed from the beginning, that we wanted to find a way to agree that the best interests of Jamaica and our company could be served no other way. And I believe it was one morning at 2:36 am when we resolved the final point, and I stood up under the clock in the hallway of Jamaica House and shook Mr Manley's hand and said, 'Mr Prime Minister, we have an agreement.' That agreement led to the unshakeable 51 per cent ownership of the Kaiser Jamaica partnership by the Government of Jamaica.
At the signing ceremony, on February 2, 1977, it was like 'old friends meet' when the prime minister welcomed the corporate patriarch Edgar Kaiser as an “old and trusted friend of Jamaica”. Cornell Maier repeated that, “What we have sought in Jamaica in our long history here is bauxite... and the friendship and respect of the Jamaican people.”
And Edgar Kaiser underlined the partnership as based on a “heritage of mutual accomplishment, friendship and trust”. These are the kind of partnerships and social commitments expressed through national contributory programmes such as listed in a paper by Anthony Porter, international geologist, author, and former Alcan senior executive:
“In the years of bauxite investment in Jamaica, the industry has contributed immensely to many areas of national life, most notably, but not limited to, agriculture, national budget support in times of need (as in the 1990s exchange crises), construction, community development, education, employment, farming (tenant programmes), housing, medical centres, natural disaster assistance, (eg, June 1979 floods) pension trust funds, ports, remittances, research, roads (eg, Melrose and Spur Tree bypasses), scholarships, schools, sports, training, taxes, water supplies, and so on.
“Being a geologist by profession, it is imperative that readers also be aware of the vast intangible and impossible-to-quantify contribution made by the many scientific professionals that have worked in the industry these past 70 years.
“Another benefit, albeit unquantifiable, but which must be taken into account by anyone or any organisation wishing to undertake a cost-benefit analysis, are the thousands of students [who] have been educated both in Jamaica and overseas from the company education assistance programmes, and who have gone on to become specialists in their chosen fields, some are global authorities, and who still to this day send back huge sums of monies to families in Jamaica.”
Lance Neita is an author, historian, and public relations executive. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com