Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT has issued a stern warning to Jamaicans not to engage in xenophobic discussions, which could affect the decision by the Chinese to invest in the country.
Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the tone of the discussion surrounding Chinese investment was less than desirable.
"If we continue to have the discussion this way, the question I want to ask is whether we want to say to the Chinese, do not invest in Jamaica," the prime minister said.
Her statement comes against the background of criticism that Chinese nationals are being brought to the island by their employers to take jobs that can be performed by Jamaicans.
Opposition Member of Parliament Pearnel Charles had questioned whether the Government had negotiated with the Chinese for a percentage of the jobs on certain projects to be done by the Chinese.
Simpson Miller denied knowledge of such agreements, saying "if that existed, it would not have been negotiated under my administration".
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, responding to Simpson Miller, said Chinese investment in Jamaica was extremely important.
"However, foreign direct investment comes with some conditions. Some of them are known upfront and some of them are discovered as you go along," Holness noted.
He said it was the duty of the Opposition to ensure that as "investments come in, it is the people who benefit and that the conditions are known upfront".
The Government has been courting Chinese investment, which, it says, is critical to stimulating economic growth and development. However, segments of the population have been viewing the Chinese investments with scepticism, with some persons suggesting that the Chinese investment is a purely geo-political strategy.
Simpson Miller yesterday attempted to douse those flames and stopped short of saying that those criticising the Chinese investments should put their money into local projects.
"When I hear people running up their mouths about Chinese investments in Jamaica, before anyone criticises, they should show their level of investment in Jamaica," the prime minister said.
She added: "I want to thank the Jamaican business people, large or small, for their continued investment in their homeland. But where we are today, we need some big investments to pull the economy from where we are ... . So all who want to criticise, come if you want to invest, and come with the money because the Government does not have the money."
To add to investment in sugar, the Chinese are putting up US$650 million to complete the north-south highway of Highway 2000. Most recently, through China Harbour Engineering Company, the Chinese were preparing to invest US$1.5 billion into port and logistics facilities on the island.
The latter investment involves a proposal for the use of the Goat Islands, located off the coast of Old Harbour, St Catherine.
Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies yesterday told the House that he had instructed the Port Authority to continue its assessment and monitoring of the proposed project area, to undertake detailed environmental and feasibility studies, and to offer effective guidance to the Chinese investors about the required development processes and approvals which must be followed or attained before any final proposal is put to the Cabinet for consideration.
"This proposed investment of approximately US$1.5 billion would represent a key development milestone and could have a significant positive impact on the country's development agenda," Davies said.
Davies appealed to Holness not to allow the discussions surrounding the investment by the Chinese to sink to dangerous levels.
"Don't let us descend into this whole thing about Chinese coming and 'thiefing' jobs. More than that, these opportunities are only occurring because they are bringing their investments here. Let us be careful. We can't just cuss them and tell them come. They have no obligation to come," Davies said.
He added: "There are other countries that are seeking their investments. There is nothing unique about Jamaica which would say that this is the only place that they can invest."