Sat | Apr 29, 2017

Craven choke puppy

Published:Sunday | April 26, 2015 | 4:00 AM

'Craven choke puppy', a well-known Jamaican saying that is complemented by an interpretation to make sure you are capable of tackling the task at hand. The build-out and operation of the logistics hub, as generally spoken about, is a massive undertaking.

It comprises a seaport facility capable of handling post-Panamax cargo vessels, the break-bulk and fabrication to be done at the Caymanas Economic Zone site. It is further to include an airport for cargo and aero repair at Vernamfield, a marine repair facility at Salt River, and the commercial bulk trans-shipment and storage at Cow Bay in St Thomas.

This would be a tremendous boost to the economy and lead to the economic take-off for the country. However, I started thinking further when a number of things were said recently.

First, the idea was floated about a US$5-billion package on the horizon. This was to be done in conjunction with a Dubai financial institution with offices in New York, USA, and a German engineering company based in Austria. So far, so good. In Parliament, however, Omar Davies, in trying to give assurance that China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) had not abandoned Jamaica, told us that CHEC was ready to tackle major projects in the region. Projects that would be in the region of US$5-billion range, yet Jamaica was not capable of providing the supporting infrastructure.

This struck me as odd. How come we cannot accommodate the China Harbour requirements, but are eager to sign a memorandum of understanding for a similar large-scale engineering project with the suitors who came uninvited? It does not compute.

I continue to be an advocate for the country to make best use of the marine industries' competitive advantages that we are blessed with. Location, location, location. We sit adjacent to major shipping lanes of the world. We have the seventh largest natural harbour in the world. We have a harbour capable of berthing the largest vessels on the high seas in Cow Bay (Old Bowden Wharf).

We have a large portion of the population being under the age of 35, with a life expectancy comparable to the high 70s. We have large consumer markets in excess of 800 million persons within our geographic area and a growing demand for goods. We would be foolish not to reach for that brass ring. How we approach it is most critical. The all-at-once approach is likely to choke the puppy.

 

bauxite blueprint

 

When one looks at our country, we must accept that the education standards are very far from world class. The agriculture industry will never grow much beyond the six to eight per cent of GDP for reasons of topography, mechanisation and the lack of youth appeal, and the vagaries of our climate in drought and hurricanes possibly occurring in a 12-month cycle.

What do we have? A blueprint has been provided by the bauxite industry. Train a Jamaican, give him/her a hard hat, some mechanised tools, a suitable industrial work environment, and a fair wage and they are world-class producers.

Do the same thing with a marine refurbishing activity that can employ thousands at a time to service all ocean-going vessels that must be dry-docked every six years. Retrofit, service the mechanical, electronic and metallurgical in an environment where we earn hard currency coupled with the demand for time efficiencies.

Each day the vessel is tied up at the dock; nothing is earned. Refurbishment and modernisation would necessitate operations going 24 hours daily, 365 days a year. Our climate facilitates this. Our flexi-work laws now facilitate this.

Workers would prove competent and the infrastructure welcoming. The jobs, in the thousands, come at the earliest stage of construction and continue unabated to the on-hand, on-deck work. Think of the economic multiplier effect of 3,000 to 5,000 permanent employees, with a good living wage, some in much-needed foreign exchange.

This would slow the urban drift, probably even spark some reversal. St Thomas and Clarendon are in the direct line for improvement. Think, Jamaica, think. Tourism in St James, Westmoreland, Trelawny and St Ann. Dry-docking and air cargo and aero repair in Clarendon and bulk commodity in St Thomas in the east. O for creative thinking, good management and the efficient application of credible plans!

We have the opportunity to do all of this in incremental stages. The 'High and Mighty' Barack Obama raised the issue that Jamaica could be a trans-shipment point for natural gas to be made available for the region. This is where St Thomas would factor in, as a long-term, assured client. The time lag to book a dry-dock facility on the east coast of the USA is long and growing longer. Dead heading (a vessel returning empty after discharge of cargo) is costly.

We sit on the shipping lane for the vessels that would offload at ports from Dominican Republic in the east to Panama in the south and the Gulf of Mexico in the west. Let us make and implement the plans that are doable and stop being the puppy that is too craven. Are we ready?

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.