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Government won't dictate to Chinese, says Davies

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2016 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies
Mike Henry

The Government is being accused of putting the interest of Jamaicans behind Chinese interest with the parliamentary opposition alleging that it effected a major change to a provision in a draft agreement that sought to dictate the extent to which Jamaicans will be employed on developmental projects being executed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

Mike Henry, opposition spokesman on transport and works, said in the House of Representatives on Tuesday that the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government has veered away from the agreement he left behind in 2011 when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was voted from office.

"This is a fundamental difference to the agreement which the JLP government signed, which did not give the right to the Chinese to dictate," Henry said in response to a statement from Dr Omar Davies, the portfolio minister, that CHEC would determine projects in which it will invest along the North-South Highway corridor.


1,200 acres to CHEC

As part of the agreement for CHEC to complete the construction of the highway, the company will be given 1,200 acres of land for secondary developments once the highway is completed.

Davies said 150 acres have been approved for development at Mammee Bay for the construction of 3,200 hotel rooms and 500 housing solutions. He said design work on these developments will commence once the official handover of the highway has taken place.

In relation to other possible projects, Davies said it was the Chinese who would determine what they do and the role of government will be restricted to regulating the developments.

"These are not dictates from the Government of Jamaica. It [CHEC] will be seeking projects that will be profitable and we have no obligations to finance any of this work... They will be looking to recoup their investment," the minister said.

But Henry fumed that the policy, as outlined by Davies, is a betrayal of the principles which underpinned the public-private partnership that sees Jamaica putting forward land.

"All the developmental plans, when I left office, were to be brought to the government for final approval. not to the dictate of the investor," Henry said.

He argued that the idea behind the agreement is to "provide growth and development for the poor people of Jamaica".

"The question of how many Jamaicans would be employed on the one economic zone, such as the hotel, would be coming from the Ministry of Tourism figure. What I hear the minister saying is that the development plan will be totally driven by the Chinese investors," he added.

Henry also said CHEC, in building the North-South Highway, has not included any local contractors in the development plan.

"We all know China loans money to find work for their citizens. ... When we invited the Chinese here for this programme, we made it very clear, we are a sovereign country and we need to protect the Jamaicans overall," Henry added.

CHEC is spending US$610 million for the construction of the highway. Davies said the company, which will operate the tolled-road on a 50-year concession, will not be able to recoup its investment from toll fees.

The minister said the investors, in selecting projects, would be going to things that are profitable. He also said different political economic philosophies may have been the key determinant in how to structure an agreement with CHEC.

"We are not operating in a centrally planned economy. We are in a situation where the investor will determine that which will reap his greatest returns within the constraints of the regulations," said Davies, who is a member of the centre-left socialist People's National Party (PNP).

Davies said the highway is 90 per cent complete.

The highway will be officially commissioned and handed over, and tolling will commence by the end of March. The section Angels to Linstead will be opened by the end of January while the Caymanas to Angels and the section from Ocho Rios to Moneague will also be opened by the end of February

The North-South Highway, between Treadways and Moneague, was opened to the public in August 2014.