Mike Henry, GUEST COLUMNIST
I noted with great interest, the article by Mr Edward Seaga two Sundays ago regarding growth in the Jamaican economy, in which he opined that it could be on the horizon.
I wondered when we would all begin to recognise that rather than focusing only on an IMF agreement, we should begin to focus on the programmes that the JLP presented to Parliament in May 2011 labelled 'Integrated Multimodal Transport Programme for 2009-2015'.
Obviously, as a thinking government, the JLP had recognised that we needed to plan ahead, and that for growth, public-private partnership (PPP) investment was the only answer. So the Ministry of Transport and Works, in consultation with the Ministry of Finance, sought investments for infrastructure development and presented it in the 2009-2015 Growth Plan.
The point that I am making here is that the development of the Port of Kingston alone, without the necessary road, rail and air connections, will not make the country the place of real choice as a regional transport hub, as there are other top-level ports in this hemisphere, including Miami and Panama, to name two.
What we were aspiring to be is the next Singapore, which, as a city-state, was expanded by dredged-up land, with sea and air connections established in a secure and seamless way. Jamaica, as a country, can achieve this by effectively connecting the four modes of travel - sea, air, rail and road.
This would involve the high-speed road in Highway 2000 that is already established and expanded; and restored rail service that is already linked to all the major ports; and notably, both of these modes are already logistically factored into connection to Vernamfield, the only airstrip that can take the largest cargo planes in the world.
This multimodal arrangement is necessary to satisfy the real needs of a just-in-time business world.
AREAS RIPE FOR GROWTH
It would, as my 2011 presentation outlined, allow for real growth by the following component investments ready to take off:
The aerospace industry - aero training, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) of planes.
Logistics centres, which are emerging as the main focus of the present Government.
Training and supply of aero and shipping industry needs.
Revival of niche agricultural production.
It was the absence of quick field-to-distribution channels which led to the failure of the Spring Plains project in the 1980s. Mr Seaga will recall the roads we had then; no Highway 2000.
Having seen what the injection of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) did for the only recorded growth period recently, it is obvious that Mr Seaga is right. Growth will come if the present Government continues with the following programmes that were left behind to be implemented:
1) The north-south Highway link (ready to start from December 2011).
2) Expansion of the Port of Kingston into Fort Augusta (MOU in place).
3) Expansion of the Kingston Container Terminal (CMA/CGM investment ongoing).
4) Investment in private development of the railway.
The development of Vernamfield was left to be implemented with private capital either as a joint venture with the Port Authority of Jamaica or by releasing land in stages to the developer to begin to build an aerospace college with complementing facilities, annexed to a school for the training of pilots and other personnel for this industry. It is noteworthy that some of the facilities to be established are non-existent within the hemisphere.
Indeed, the building out of Vernamfield would also capitalise on the Open Skies policy of the Jamaican Government for some time, by enabling Jamaica to receive passenger traffic directly from the Far East and Africa, and reduce travel time from such places as China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Africa and the Middle East, from days to hours.
Indeed, the study on Vernamfield showed that the development would utilise some 10-15 per cent of national labour force.
In closing, I urge the financial gurus to focus on this investment and growth path, and advise if we really should be in a hurry to sign an IMF agreement, which is only a Band-Aid for our ills, and, being devoid of the corresponding growth potential, is doomed to fail.
Mike Henry, MP, is a former minister of transport. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.