The hype surrounding Goat Islands as the possible site for an aspect of the logistics hub shows a lack of understanding of both the scope and elements of this transformation project.
Industry Minister Anthony Hylton has been at pains to point out that the logistics hub comprises a proposed dry dock for Jackson Bay in Clarendon, a commodities port at Cow Bay, St Thomas, improvements to the port of Kingston, the establishment of the Caymanas Enterprise Zone, and the development of Vernamfield air and passenger terminals in Clarendon.
Goat Islands, which a Chinese firm proposes as the site for the building of a port and industrial park, represent an additional element to the concept. But given the country's history in implementing projects, we feel that Goat Islands are the surest shot at capitalising on the opportunities being created with the expansion of the Panama Canal, due to be completed in 2015.
Jamaica has a great history in talking a good talk about project development, but the country has failed miserably to move into implementation mode. And, although Hylton has sought to assure the country that the first phase of the logistics-hub initiative is well under way, we are not confident that the timelines proposed will be met.
Under phase one of the project, Jamaica is to privatise the Kingston Container Terminal, dredge the Kingston Harbour, and establish an enterprise zone in the Caymanas area of St Catherine. Cabinet, according to Hylton, is due to consider responses to a tender for the Caymanas project, and, thereafter, select a preferred bidder. The Government apparently hopes this will be the catalyst to the dream of the logistics hub being transferred from a piped dream into reality.
The problem with Jamaica's logistics hub is the great uncertainty which comes as a result of the projects being investor-driven.
CONVERT INTEREST INTO WORK
Although Hylton says there is tremendous interest from around the world for every aspect of the project, we will not equate expressions of interest with the idea of projects being under way. This brings us right back to Goat Islands.
Without a doubt, the Chinese have the money and are ready to give impetus to the logistics-hub initiative. They want to build factories in their industrial park and establish a port to receive mega vessels. But standing in their way are those strongly against (environmentalists), who get a kick out of opposing development without even taking time to find out what is contained in proposals. It is for this reason, we find Everald Warmington's "Go to hell" comment, aimed at the obstructionists, to be appropriate.
One wonders what would have been the response if exploration revealed vast amount of oil deposited in the Portland Bight Protected Area. We know the obstructionists would say, "Do not drill", notwithstanding the fact that Jamaica has been searching long and hard for our deliverance.
The Gavel feels that these mega projects, if properly handled, could be our saviour; they have the potential to reduce chronic unemployment, spur economic growth and emancipate us from our high debt burden.
Pending environmental impact assessments as well as cost-benefit analyses, which we hope will come back in favour of having the development, Jamaica should rally the troops behind the Chinese to ensure that this Goat Islands project becomes a success.
FIND WAYS TO COUNTER EFFECTS
In addition to thousands of jobs to be created during the construction phase, we cannot ignore the trans-formational impact this US$1.5-billion project can have on the economy. Now is not the time to give into fear mongering; now is not the time for dithering and weak-kneed leadership. Instead, we believe that the Government should lead the process in getting the experts to examine ways to mitigate any negative impact of this project on the environment. It is certainly not beyond the realms of engineering.
Well-thinking Jamaicans should not give into this notion that the entire fish population in the Portland Bight area will disappear as a result of the development being proposed. Similarly, well-thinking Jamaicans should dismiss, with venom, this suggestion that Goat Islands will become a Chinese enclave and that nationals will be locked out.
As a country, we should open ourselves up to the possibilities of science and technology being used to protect as much as possible the fish sanctuary, even as we move to take advantage of our God-given right to benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal.
For as sure as night follows day, the mega ships will soon be steaming from South Asia. Our ports must be ready when they call. We are not confident the dry dock, commodities port or Vernamfield terminals will get off the ground anytime soon. The Goat Islands project, however, would provide the impetus for other investors to race to Jamaica and buy into this idea of making the country the logistics hub for the Western Hemisphere. We diddle at our perils.