Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Peter Espeut | Big money does run behind it

Published:Friday | July 26, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Students enjoy the river at The Falls at Two Hills, after the launch of the Cockpit Country local forest management committees at Bunkers Hill, Trelawny on Wednesday, March 28, 2007.

My wife and I were present last Monday in the public square of Albert Town, Trelawny, along with a large crowd in a militant mood, protesting the impending mining in the Cockpit Country. Residents of Trelawny and St Ann who will be affected addressed the crowd, as well as leading environmentalists from all over Jamaica.

Also weighing in were representatives from the Scott’s Hall and Charles Town Maroons, supporting their bredrin and sistren of the Accompong Maroons in the southern Cockpit Country who are dead set against mining in their historical stomping grounds. The drumming and chanting of the Maroons was punctuated with shouts of, “No retreat; no surrender!” It is going to be an interesting next few months!

The Maroons were well supported by Rastafari bredrin from all around, but especially by the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay. The authorities make a big mistake if they dismiss the protest against bauxite mining as coming from a few local malcontents. As public dissent grows in advance of an impending general election, they are going to have to weigh public opinion carefully.

Bowing to public pressure, successive Jamaican governments have given solemn undertakings that there will be no mining in the Cockpit Country; and then they backtracked! Now, they say there will be no bauxite mining in a small narrow Cockpit Country Protected Area, in which there is little bauxite anyway; and the little bauxite that is there is too expensive to extract. It is one of the biggest bipartisan Samfie tricks in recent Jamaican political history.

In their election manifestos, both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party commit themselves to sustainable development, which is development that focuses on extracting renewable resources; i.e., planting trees at the same or greater rate at which we cut them down; or regulating fisheries to catch fish at the same or lesser rate at which fish stocks replenish themselves. Future generations, therefore, will have access to the same or greater resources that are available to our generation.

UNSUSTAINABLE ACTIVITY

Mining is a profoundly unsustainable activity. When we mine all the bauxite, it will be gone forever. Industry experts predict that at the current rate of extraction, we have only 30 years of bauxite supply left. And then what will Noranda and Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company mine? By that time, they will have packed their bags and gone.

I have been long convinced that despite having a Planning Institute of Jamaica, an Industrial Development Corporation, an Agricultural Development Corporation, and a Ministry of Economic Development, we are still unable to plan ourselves even 10 years into the future, never mind 30 years ahead.

We are sitting on tens of thousands of acres of good, arable land which used to be in sugar, and we can’t even find a new profitable crop to plant? All we can think to do is to convert good farmland into housing projects.

And when the bauxite is all gone, from where will we get the additional gross domestic product (GDP) to replace it? Or will Jamaica just sink into recession?

If government planners have an answer to my last question, then implement it now and achieve your ‘5 in 4’ (five percent GDP growth in four years). Don’t wait for the last ton of bauxite or alumina to be shipped out of Jamaica before you come up with a plan for new GDP growth.

And if you come up with a plan for new GDP growth, then we will be much better off if you implement it now and stop bauxite mining now and save the Cockpit Country. Somebody is making money from bauxite mining, but the residents of southern Trelawny and western St Ann surely are not.

Someone will make money if we discover oil in the Pedro Bank, but I’m sure we won’t get any relief at the gas pumps.

Someone will make money if Jamaica sponsors deep seabed mining in the Pacific Ocean, but only God knows how the Jamaican people will benefit.

I believe we need a commission of inquiry into Jamaica’s mining sector. It is all unsustainable, and of questionable national benefit. But big money does run behind it.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist.