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'Release of documents on Goat Islands could affect economy substantially'

Published:Thursday | February 6, 2014 | 3:44 PM

Jovan Johnson, Gleaner Writer



KINGSTON, Jamaica:

The Government has told an environmental group seeking information on Chinese proposals for the Goat Islands that any release of critical documents could have substantial effect on the Jamaican economy.




This has pushed the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) to declare its pursuit of other legal options to force the publication of information on the building of a port in the Portland Bight Protected Area.



In October, JET had requested the Port Authority of Jamaica to release an agreement signed with China Harbour Engineering Company and any technical proposals describing work to be done on the Goat Islands.



The environment group disclosed this morning that it received a letter on Tuesday signed by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, outlining that documents requested under the Access to Information Act are exempted.



The letter cited the exemption clause of the law which noted that premature disclosure would or could reasonably be expected to have a substantial effect on the Jamaican economy.



Phillips’ letter said the logistics hub initiative is a central plank in Jamaica’s growth strategy which influences the monetary policy.



However, JET’s chief executive officer, Diana McCaulay has rejected the claim, noting that its request related only to the building of the port facility on the Goat Islands and not the entire logistics hub.



According to her, there is overwhelming public interest in the details of the project.



She said if the government is serious about its commitments to openness and transparency, aspects of the documents should be released.



McCaulay said the Access to Information Act also allows the Government to release documents without sensitive information which the port authority has not done.



Meanwhile, JET said the certificate notifying of an exemption has denied the organisation of its right for an appeal before the Access to Information Appeals Tribunal.



JET is awaiting a date for its appeal to be heard after the Port Authority refused the October request to release documents relating to the Goat Islands port proposal.



The environmental group filed an appeal with the Appeals Tribunal on January 3.



China Harbour Engineering Company is proposing to construct a US1.5 billion dollar trans-shipment port and industrial and commercial zone, which would include Goat Islands and nearby lands in the Old Harbour Bay area.



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