Ronald Mason | Here we go again
As a country, we have certain recurring challenges that need resolution. If we are aware that these challenges and situations are constantly arising, the prudent management of our affairs demands that we establish policy and protocol to be applied in seeking solutions.
The principal task facing the economy, as enunciated by our elected officials, is economic growth. Economic growth is a very desirable objective, but it comes with a price: whether we pay the maximum price for growth with potential for high returns or we muddle along with the incremental growth that has limited impact on the country is a decision that needs urgent attention.
The alternatives currently before the body politic are the re-establishment of the bauxite industry, with one additional product. This product is aluminium. We have never produced the metal aluminium in Jamaica. We always saw it as the next step to development in the bauxite industry in collaboration with Trinidad and Guyana. This has never materialised.
The production of aluminum is now back on the table in the proposal from the Chinese for the development of an industrial complex in Nain, St Elizabeth. The negotiators representing Jamaica's interest are spread across the two most recent governments.
It is reported that the agreement signed provides for a 100MW electricity generation plant fuelled by coal. The potential for negative environmental impact by the coal plant is the price we must pay for aluminium.
All manner of competing interests are now making their voices heard. We are hearing about threats to tourism interests. Another is the Paris Accord. We also hear that having agreed to power generation by natural gas, we must continue that if this is to be brought in line.
I find it interesting that in the absence of Parliament debating and determining the policy, both the JLP and PNP have signed off on this agreement.
Here we go again. The environmentalists oppose it on the premise that it is not 'sustainable development'. The academics want to study it ad infinitum, and nobody has polled the people to find out their position.
We need to make some policy decisions on where economic growth is to be found. Is it only to come from the BPO, gazing in the eyes of iguanas, bird watching, or cultural arts and sports? Do we appreciate the cost imperatives based on factors such as available technology, market conditions, timelines for implementation, and their impact on the viability on any investment?
At any given point, there are competing proposals for investments in Jamaica. Right now, there are some 30 proposals floating around that seek to convert waste to energy.
We recognise annual housing market deficit of some 20,000 units. We seek to attract more than 10,000 new hotel rooms in the immediate future. Are we ready to convert sugar cane lands to produce cassava for Red Stripe? Are we ready to allow quarrying and its attendant land scarring to facilitate exports?
Are we ready to train some professionals, primarily nurses and teachers, to satisfy the foreign demand? Are we going to permit large-scale bunkering of potentially contaminating fuels? Are we ready for large-scale, labour-intensive dry-docking?
Those in the developed world who preach to us cajole and threaten to keep this island pristine have burnt the fossil fuels, moved to corporate farms, genetically modified their crops, cloned their animals and stacked their citizens in high-rise buildings, all to facilitate economic growth.
Yet we must continue to allow the iguanas to be found outside the zoo so we can gaze into their eyes and speak to some index of human development while we continue to be underfed, undereducated, die early, or become disabled from poor health care, and be used for target practice by those who are perpetually unemployed.
Let us use polling to get a sense of our fellow citizens' thoughts and wishes and then set policy. All of us will then be aware of the choices available to us. Until then, we can all apply for jobs as tour guides on the Black River Safari or to lead people along the pathways of newly minted heritage sites, drinking water from the natural springs, gathering around the campfire and singing 'kumbayah' and maypole dancing.
Meanwhile, these people may not have the ability to be educated, to purchase the health care we need, own a home or even own a car. We need to get real. We must use our assets in the most advantageous way to facilitate our development. There is always going to be a trade-off.