Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Ronald Mason | What does Jamaica want?

Published:Sunday | April 23, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The Jamaican population has been paying a steep price in trying to establish the parameters for development. We are still in the throes of an IMF agreement that has among its objectives a significant reduction of debt to attain a 60 per cent debt-to-GDP ratio. The population is suffering badly, even with the much-vaunted low inflation rate, which is now at 4.1 per cent for the period of fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.

We have passed the first IMF test under the new standby agreement with the aid of a waiver. Some commentators are comparing the present circumstance with the high expectations that swept the country at the time of Independence in 1962. "At that time, I am told, there was a feeling of invincibility - a feeling that we could achieve anything we wanted. History has shown us that those responsible for charting that (economic) course have messed up badly, and they have to live with that. Today, however, I think we have a chance to once again realise that dream, and if we do not do so now, then I am not sure we will be able to do so anytime soon." (Dennis Chung - Jamaica's Opportunity to Shine, Caribbean Journal - April 2017).

I am in agreement that some opportunities are worth exploring, and I strongly believe that with regard to the logistics hub, our lack of focus and seriousness of purpose and lacking recognition of what it could really mean to Jamaica is being lost. The logistics hub is capable of impacting Jamaican needs as they exist and not as we wish they were. Crime is rampant and our people are at best 30 per cent successful in high school. The term 'unattached youth' can now apply to vast numbers of the society's young men. The logistics hub needs clear leadership, expert management, and hard-nosed pragmatism, which are lacking.

Let me illustrate it with the challenges faced by Singapore in the 1960s. Singapore had identified logistics and cargo movement as a method to move the country's economy forward. Lee Kuan Yew concluded that "we had to make extraordinary effort to do things better and cheaper than our neighbours, because they wanted to bypass us and render obsolete our role as entrepot and middlemen for the trade of the region".

Decisions had to be made to choose between the Changi International Airport versus Paya Lebar Airport. Lee Kuan Yew sought differing perspectives on his choice until a resolution that appeared satisfactory was reached. He was told ALL the factors that would almost guarantee failure. A decision was made to build the runways at Changi International Airport and to do it in the shortest possible time. The first runway was completed in 1981 and the second in 1984. On completion, it was Asia's largest airport.

It involved resettlement of people, maxdemolition of multiple buildings, exhuming graves, clearing swamps and, ultimately, reclaiming land from the sea. On the face of it, the 1,174 hectares at the Vernamfield property does not present these types of challenges, but we display lack of resolve and very little urgency to seek national development. There is no concern, except platitudes for our unemployed, marginally employed, underemployed, badly socialised population, but we chase the illusionary call-centre jobs that can be relocated overnight and are more likely akin to providing shelter from the sun and rain as the workers beg for pennies and we exude joy.

 

seduction of remittances

 

When more is claimed for the export tourist industry which leaves proportionately very little for the country, we applaud. We fall prey to the seduction of remittances, which can end with the stroke of a pen on an executive order. Infrastructure and hard assets are firmly planted on our soil.

Andrew Holness makes national decisions while on the go and does not clarify the facts related to the logistics. The Goat Islands development was proposed for the 187,600 hectares that was designated the Portland Bight Protected Area. It was designated a protected area by the Jamaican Government in 1999 to safeguard both its land and marine life.

Studies that lead to the environmentalists saying that Goat Islands were not suitable because they sit in the Portland Bight Area (PBA). In the summary of 'The Environmental Management Scoping of the Portland Bight Area, inclusive of the Goat Islands, it is noted that the area is NOT exclusively an environmental conservatory, but is recognised as multi-use national park. The PBA is actually home to a chemical lime quarry, an ethanol plant, the island's main power station with a new one being built, power barges and Rocky Point port. The area has three designated fish sanctuaries of which the Goat Islands is NOT included." (Paul Hay of Paul Hay Capital Projects - Caribbean Journal).

Our Minister of Transport and Mining Mike Henry is not displaying any urgency about this, and Andrew Holness has ruled out the suitability of Goat Islands without telling the Jamaican people the logical, rational reasons for this decision.

However, when they fail us, history will never, never, ever absolve them. Just remember: Panama and Nicaragua wait impatiently to replace us. What does Jamaica really want?

n Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@

gleanerjm.com and

nationsagenda@gmail.com.