Thu | Apr 26, 2018

Procrastinating Jamaica and the canals

Published:Sunday | June 23, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica, an island state, has a vital interest in the maritime industry. We sit on major shipping lanes, the seventh largest natural harbour, amid favourable economies and are located in proximity to Central and North America.

In most other countries, this would be eagerly exploited for national benefit. But no, Jamaica is dragging its feet. Jamaica is rudderless. What are we doing to leave a legacy for the next generation? We have political theatre that passes for Parliament.

In August 2011, the French shipping group CMA CGM described then as the world's third largest, signed an agreement. The Government of Jamaica announced that the group would be investing J$8.6 billion (then US$100m) and employ 1,000 persons in exchange for a 35-year lease to set up a major hub at the Kingston Container Terminal (KCT).

The driver for this investment would be the expanded Panama Canal. The investment was to be made by 2014. The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) was to dredge the Kingston Harbour to accommodate the larger ships. The PAJ even expressed the position that this was separate from the planned privatisation of the KCT.

Nothing has been done! Now we are told the KCT has to be sold to realise the funds to finance the dredging of the harbour. We paid PwC J$333m to consult on the privatisation of KCT. Even the National Contracts Commission approval was had in June 2011. By the way, this was the second tranche, the first one having been contracted in May 2009 for US$525,000. How we waste money, time and initiative! Where is the urgency to create? Tempus fugit!

Welcome to June 2013. The world's ocean-going vessels have undergone transformation. The South Korea Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering will deliver the first of 10 Triple E Class container ships in July 2013. The Triple E stands for economy of scale, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly improved vessel. It will move 18,270 twenty-foot containers within vessels 400 metres long and 59 metres wide. The draught will be 15.5 metres. The Kingston Harbour was (is) to be dredged to 17 metres. It will emit 20 per cent less CO2 per container shipped.

But our politicians talk a good deal and implement pitifully little. Mexico, in January 2013, allocated US$4.34b to build two ports, six port expansions, cruise ship terminals and 12 specialised terminals. Now welcome to the Great Inter-oceanic Canal.

Nicaragua, located to our south in Central America with borders on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has granted a US$40b, 50-year concession to build and operate, with an additional 50-year option to Nicaraguan Canal Development Investment Company Limited, a Hong Kong-registered firm with ties to the Cayman Islands, to build a larger, longer rival to the Panama Canal. The project also includes provision for two free-trade zones, an airport, and a 'dry canal' freight railway. Intermodal indeed!

Nicaragua wins

Transformative of global shipping and a major jump-start to a country whose income per capita is US$3,300 per year. This is approximately one-third of Jamaica's comparable value. The government of Nicaragua will be a 51 per cent shareholder in the projects, with gradual transfer from the company to the government over the life of the concession. The government and the people of Nicaragua win.

Jamaica languishes because we lack leaders who can implement. By the way, the company is studying how to tap international financial markets in New York, London and Tokyo for investment in a scheme entirely privately funded. Creative financing! Ever heard of it, Mr Minister? Remember, Mr Minister, you do not have to own 100 per cent of the project at the onset. Fifty-one per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing!

Without vision, a people perish. Fifty years of Independence and 50 years of the same old same old.

Interestingly, the history of the Nicaraguan Canal had its genesis in 1524 when the Spanish conquistador Herman Cortes wrote that a canal across Central America would be worth more than the conquest of Mexico. During the 19th century, there were many varied activities involving the US interests, including the Vanderbilt family in 1849. The 1897 US President William McKinley appointed the Nicaraguan Canal Commission, which carried out a 20-month survey and recommends a route. However, in 1903, the US began construction on the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal, even as expanded in 2015, will have limitations. The delay for Post-Panamax vessels could be as much as 12 days. The Panama Canal will not be able to accommodate the new Triple E vessels. The Nicaragua Canal will accommodate these vessels.

The Government of Jamaica owes its people an update on this important project. What, Mr Minister, was the outcome of your recent visit to Central America under the auspices of the American Chamber of Commerce? Where are we with the divestment of KCT? Where is the country on the dredging of the Kingston Harbour? Is the Caymanas Economic Zone for the ICT industry or, primarily, for the maritime industry?

The people of this country elected you to lead for their best interest. Fish, or cut bait. The competitive advantages of this country are to be utilised for legacy projects.

Tell us what is being done, meaning worked on, coming out of the ground, that will serve the next generation. Think Sandy Gully project. Still vital and functional 50-plus years after being built. No vision, people perish.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney/mediator. Email feedback to and