Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
AFTER a decade of plans to develop a world-class, luxury resort on Jamaica's breathtaking north coast in Trelawny, the Harmony Cove project is yet to materialise. But this year, development partner Harmonisation Limited is expected to rack up J$55 million in losses and there are fears that its equity of J$3.5 billion is at risk.
Despite the losses, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips said the Government was going full speed ahead with the Harmony Cove project. Harmonisation Ltd is comprised of the Development Bank of Jamaica Limited and the National Housing Trust.
"We are not closing down the project," the minister asserted.
Opposition Tourism Spokesman Edmund Bartlett yesterday sought answers about the multibillion-dollar project, arguing that investment partners did not put any significant capital injection into the venture.
Bartlett and his colleague member of parliament for South Trelawny, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, pressed Phillips to explain why the company was still paying salaries amounting to J$20 million when the project appeared to have stalled.
The Harmony Cove resort, with hotels, a casino, private villas, entertainment facilities, a marina and golf course, is expected to take a decade to be completed.
The first phase of the project, to cost US$800 million and expected to begin this year, was to take three years to complete, according to a filing with the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission by Phillips last year.
Yesterday, Phillips contended that the project should be advanced, noting that it was not dormant.
"The board and the officials at Harmonisation are actively pursuing this. They have been having discussions with the potential financiers, with the equity partners seeking to bring this to fruition," the finance minister said.
"I don't think one should feel that the global economic environment does not impinge on what we are doing here."
Phillips said the holders of the financing which was being sought overseas were "making evaluations of the buoyancy of the global economic environment".
Harmonisation Limited signed a joint-venture agreement with North American firm Tavistock in September 2006. The project was designed to "influence the growth of the Jamaican tourism sector, as well as generate economic multipliers, particularly in the areas of employment and enterprise creation".
Quizzing Phillips about the project during the first day of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament now examining the 2013-2014 Estimates of Expenditure, Bartlett argued that the Government's exposure of J$3.5 billion was of concern, especially with "the level of total uncertainty that pervades this entire project arrangement".
Bartlett's comment appeared to have irked Phillips, who hit back.
"There is no worsening of the situation with Harmonisation Limited in comparison to what was left when (Bartlett) had more direct knowledge and interest in it and no such impression should be left with the Parliament or the general public," Phillips declared. "The exposure has been the same."
In a clear signal that he would again tackle Phillips and the Government on Harmonisation Limited, Bartlett said: "I will not comment on it at this time, but certainly within the next few weeks, you will hear more on that particular matter."
The Jamaica Public Bodies estimates for the current financial year state that construction activities on Harmony Cove are expected to begin this year, pending the inclusion of additional investors in the project.
However, Phillips told his parliamentary colleagues yesterday that Harmonisation Limited was seeking to negotiate a loan agreement to have the construction undertaken. He said those discussions were continuing.