Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Peter Espeut | Opportunism vs long-term planning

Published:Friday | September 30, 2016 | 9:00 AM

"Give us vision lest we perish." - Jamaica's national anthem

One of the disadvantages of having elections every five years is that incumbent governments are under pressure to be seen to have done something tangible 'quick-quick' in order to get re-elected, even if that something has long-term negative consequences. The Vision 2030 plan completed in 2009 was an effort to expand the planning horizon to avoid the distortions that a five-year election cycle introduces.

The Vision 2030 Plan has seven guiding principles. One is 'Sustainability: Economic, Social, Environmental', and another is 'Sustainable Urban and Rural Development'. Therefore, the preparation of this plan will have been a waste of time and money unless the concept and approach of sustainability is integrated into government policy and practice. Both the PNP and the JLP signed on to Vision 2030, as did many in the private sector and the NGO community; but will the goal of 'Sustainable Prosperity' ever become a reality?

National Outcome No. 13 states, inter alia, that: "Vision 2030 Jamaica will give priority attention to ... incorporating environmental considerations into decision-making processes." This must mean that when a proposed project at a particular location is forecasted to lead to profound damage to natural ecosystems and wildlife, it should not be allowed to go ahead at the proposed location, even if it promises "jobs, jobs, jobs" and billions of dollars in foreign direct investment. If it is a worthwhile project, locate it at a less environmentally damaging site.

I think Jamaica is an excellent location for a logistics hub. Our strategic position between the Panama Canal and the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and Western Europe gives us a strong comparative advantage over other sites. Such a project would allow us to rejuvenate our dormant railway system and over time to adjust our education system to prepare tens of thousands of Jamaicans to take part.

 

A MODEL OF COEXISTENCE

 

What I have strongly objected to was the announced proposed site of the logistics hub: the Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area, which would have also included part of the western Hellshire Hills. The fish sanctuary at Galleon Harbour would be filled in, and a causeway was to be built that would damage fishing grounds and bird habitats. The Goat Islands would be levelled, and the relatively shallow Portland Bight would be dredged to a depth of 20 metres for miles out to sea (beyond Pigeon Island).

I have to again declare interest. Following an invitation from the Jamaican Government for NGOs to get involved in the establishment and management of national parks, marine parks, and protected areas, the NGO I headed lobbied for the creation of the Portland Bight Protected Area. The environmental value of the area was obvious: three relatively intact dry limestone forests, thousands of acres of mangrove wetlands and seagrass beds, extensive coral reefs, and dozens of small islands. The manatees, turtles, crocodiles, iguanas, snakes, skinks, fish and birds that inhabit the area make it a rare treasure trove of native and endemic wildlife of world-class proportions.

It was not a hard sell. On Earth Day (April 22, 1999), the Portland Bight Protected Area came into existence.

On World Wetlands Day (February 2, 2006), the United Nations concurred by declaring the wetlands and cays of Portland Bight to be of global importance. UNECSO was on the verge of declaring the Portland Bight Protected Area as a Biosphere Reserve - a model of the coexistence of environmental conservation and economic development - when the minister of the environment announced in China that the Jamaican Government was giving serious consideration to going along with the Chinese proposal to site the logistics hub at the Goat Islands and surrounding areas. What opportunism!

Jamaican environmentalists felt betrayed! It seemed that the drive for economic development was going to trump the environment again! What about Vision 2030? What about the election manifestos promising sustainable development? What about the protected area with its wetlands and water fowl? Environmentalists found themselves in the position of having to convince the then government to adhere to its own stated principles and policies and to honour its treaty obligations.

You will, therefore, understand when I say that I am overjoyed at the announcement by Prime Minister Holness that the Government he heads is abandoning the Goat Islands as a location for the logistics hub because of environmental considerations; and doubly overjoyed that the project will go ahead at another location.

Sustainable development is a tough option politically. I appreciate the hard choices being made by the Government, which will redound to Jamaica's benefit in the long run.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and national resource manager. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.