Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Still in the dark

Published:Friday | February 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

The Government is in disarray over the logistics hub the Chinese propose to build on the Goat Islands. Each new statement contradicts another. Who do we believe? And when do we believe them?

Speaking in Parliament on September 10, 2013, Transport Minister Omar Davies told the nation, "The Cabinet on April 21, 2013 approved an addendum to the existing MOU ... to allow the investors to undertake the necessary feasibility studies/due diligence of the project ... to facilitate the refinement of a final proposal that would be submitted to the Government of Jamaica. The period of assessment is one year and is expected to be completed by the end of April 2014. At that time, a decision will be made as to whether to proceed to a conclusive agreement." Cabinet decision to be taken May 2014.

Speaking at a Jamaica House press conference, the following day (September 11, 2013), Minister Davies told journalists that the scoping study by Conrad Douglas & Associates would be used to inform how the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Chinese investors would proceed on the logistics hub project. The Gleaner reports: "He says a Cabinet decision will be made shortly after the completion of the study on the use of the Goat Islands." Cabinet decision to be taken October 2013.

Decision already made

Speaking to the press on January 21, 2014, PAJ chairman and CEO, Professor Gordon Shirley, is quoted: "It will be the Great Goat Island and Little Goat Island and some lands to the north of there." This suggests that the Cabinet decision has already been taken.

Speaking in Parliament last Tuesday, Minister Davies stated: "The technical feasibility study is expected to be completed by the end of April 2014. The preliminary designs for the first phase of the project will begin immediately thereafter; and is expected to be completed by the end of June this year. At this stage, it is anticipated that the project will be sufficiently defined to allow CHEC to make a presentation to NEPA, to seek the requisite terms of reference (TOR) for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. And, Mr Speaker, I must emphasise that it is only after the completion of the EIA will the project be ready to be submitted to Cabinet for a decision" (bold emphasis, Minister Davies). Considering that a proper EIA will take about a year, Cabinet decision to be taken 2015 or 2016.

People in the know take me aside and whisper that "it's already a done deal", suggesting that the EIA and consultations are all a sham.

Minister Davies' speech to Parliament last Tuesday, which the press says contained "details" on the "Portland Bight/Goat Islands Project", did no such thing. Except for the Chinese plan to build a coal-fired power plant (which I predicted in my column of January 10, 2014), the minister has provided no details at all!

After reading his speech four times, I am still none the wiser about what actually will be built on the Goat Islands themselves. It seems that much of the hub infrastructure will be located at Amity Hall, St Catherine, site of the government's flagship agro park.

Where are the details?

Minister Davies outlined the seven elements to comprise Phase One of the Chinese Hub, but these are, again, mentioned in only the most vague and general terms. Any logistics hub anywhere in the world consists of these elements. My column of January 17, 2014 supporting the construction of a logistics hub on Kingston Harbour contained more detail. Jamaicans still lack essential information on exactly what is proposed.

There were two very worrying aspects of Minister Davies' presentation. What he briefly outlined was only Phase One of the Chinese logistics hub; what, pray tell, will be Phase Two? And Phase Three? We are now more in the dark than before!

The minister announced the EIA for Phase One. It's an old samfie trick! You put the most benign elements in Phase One and have that assessed; and then you spend US$100 million. And then you submit the more destructive part of the project in Phase Two, etc. It is hard to refuse Phase Two after the investor has spent millions on Phase One. Internationally accepted practice is that the EIA must be done on all phases before any approval at all is given.

The other thing that disturbs me is how our labour laws will be circumvented and thousands of Jamaican workers shafted. The minister said, "The GOJ will negotiate the minimum ratios of Jamaicans to foreigners for the project." I'm sure this is illegal. No foreign worker may be hired if there is a qualified Jamaican who can do the job.

And check this from Page 4 of the minister's speech: "Citizenship - review applicable laws, policy and procedure in light of possible request for citizenship from investors within the project area." If we provide Jamaican citizenship to thousands of Chinese workers, then Jamaicans will be working in the logistics hub. Right?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.