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LETTER OF THE DAY - That US$65m Palisadoes Road

Published:Tuesday | April 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

One of the most serious problems that Jamaica has had to be grappling with is the very onerous debt burden. For this, the current PM, Bruce Golding, has repeatedly blamed the previous administration for its wasteful and excessive borrowing and spending.

One would, therefore, expect that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration would have learnt what mistakes to avoid. However, based on the current "development" projects under way and those announced for implementation, it seems that this administration is going down the same path of finding every conceivable excuse to borrow, tax and spend on major construction projects.

As with the People's National Party (PNP) administration, their projects are generally ill-conceived, decided on unilaterally, poorly planned, and developed without public consultation or stakeholder input.

One such project is the just-announced construction of a four-lane road along the Palisadoes strip at the enormous cost of US$65 million (approximately J$5.8 billion). Some of the major areas of concern include the following:

a) In the first place, the Palisadoes strip is not just a roadway. If properly planned and developed, it has vast potential as a recreational, scenic and tourism attraction, especially if someday the harbour gets cleaned up. With a project of such environmental sensitivity, expense and importance for the people of Jamaica who will have to pay for it, design plans and feasibility studies should have been presented for review and discussion at numerous public consultations before rushing into signing a construction contract.

In any other 'democracy', local professionals, other state agencies, people's representatives, and interested citizens would have had the opportunity to examine the proposals and to voice their opinions and make their recommendations.

b) What traffic studies have been done to justify a four-lane road to the Norman Manley International Airport and Port Royal? It should be obvious to anyone that traffic to and from there could not, in the foreseeable future, require more than two lanes.

c) If, as Mike Henry said in a radio interview, they are building for the next 50 years, was an economic and financial feasibility study done?

d) If the argument that the project is justified because the Chinese are doing us a favour by lending us 85 per cent of the money at low interest rates, that simply cannot be a good reason for incurring unnecessary debt.

Let us examine what seems to be happening here. The Chinese lend money to the GOJ, then the government in turn contracts with them to pay them back the money for designing, managing and constructing the road. Materials, subcontractors, supervisors and workmen, etc, will largely be from China, but as is customary, with some local labour and political cronies included for good measure.

Construction work

Even though only two lanes of road are needed, the two additional lanes will be built so that the Chinese company gets more construction work to carry out and get paid for. This is nothing new. The JLP learned this from the PNP when the existing and newly built Old Harbour bypass was given to the French company to add two more lanes. This was done, arguably, so that Bouygues could get more construction work, as well as to justify the charging of tolls!

At the end of it all, another foreign company and country will have benefited handsomely from this country, while the poor, long-suffering Jamaican people, along with their children and future generations, will once again be saddled with more onerous taxes. This is a result of ministers and heads of agencies being able to use their power and authority with total disregard for the public's interest.

I am, etc.,