Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Editorial | Peter Bunting’s Sino-babble

Published:Tuesday | August 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Peter Bunting is not an ordinary Jamaica citizen and is in no position to insist to be so considered. He is not only an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, but he has held high political office, including the critical one of minister of national security, for which he is the spokesman for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP). Moreover, Mr Bunting has made no secret of his ambition of becoming leader of his party, which, if it happens, would put him in striking distance of the premiership of Jamaica.

So when Mr Bunting makes statements or seeks to launch public debates on matters that are likely to have an impact on national economic policy, domestic society, and social welfare, this newspaper doesn't expect him to engage in potentially incendiary and populist bar-room-style prattle. Our presumption is that he will be measured, thoughtful, and evidenced-based.

Mr Bunting, unfortunately, displayed none of these characteristics in his recent assault on Chinese firms operating in Jamaica, and, ultimately, on Beijing's foreign policy, which, he concluded, is placing Jamaica under a new form of colonialism. It is a posture that we expect to be deeply embarrassing for his party, and its new leader, Peter Phillips, given the PNP's historical relations with the Chinese and its concurrence with a visit by a PNP delegation to China.

Unease over China's emergence as a global economic power, second only to the United States, is, of course, not limited to Jamaica, where domestic construction firms, especially, complain of not being able to compete against Chinese megacompanies that have, in recent years, consistently won major infrastructure contracts here, mostly financed with Chinese loans.

The consistent argument of the Jamaican companies is that Chinese firms get preferences on the importation of equipment and material; have access to low-cost money; and, in employment practices, fail to meet Jamaican labour standards. These complaints are not new. They were around when Mr Bunting was in government. It is possible that he might have echoed them in the Cabinet without ever a whimper in public.

What seems noxiously opportunistic about his claim of China's "new form of economic colonialism" and his assertion that the firms use "convict labour" and obfuscate their accounts by keeping records in Mandarin is that he not only accuses these companies of breaching laws, without evidence, but he impugns the capacity and/or willingness of the relevant Jamaican agencies to enforce them. Included among these is the Jamaica Constabulary Force, for which Mr Bunting used to have oversight.

 

NO BASIS FOR REPETITION

 

But worse, when he is challenged by the Chinese Embassy on his allegations, Mr Bunting's flaccid response is that they did not originate with him. In other words, he merely repeated them without any deeper or substantive analysis and/or investigation with respect to their truth and, or application to Jamaica. Further, his claim to have opened a "pathway to dialogue" is akin to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded arena. He not only set up Chinese nationals, but offered no contextual policy options.

It may be factual that small Jamaican firms may have difficulty against the Chinese giants. But is it perhaps possible for domestic firms to merge or create consortia to bid on megaprojects? And rather than merely making declarations, Mr Bunting, having served in Government, should, with empirical information, be able to show how Jamaican Government policies discriminate against domestic firms in favour of Chinese ones and ways that this might be redressed.

Mr Bunting should also explain whether the core of his argument is that since Jamaica firms can't compete against them, Chinese state-owned companies should be excluded from contracts in Jamaica. Would that also mean eschewing soft loans and other capital from China that have financed most of Jamaica's infrastructure projects over the past decade?