Head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Christopher Zacca, on Thursday lashed out at the island’s Government over its handling of a Chinese firm’s proposal to construct a transshipment hub at Goat Islands, an environmental protected area off the south coast of St Catherine, Jamaica.
According to a Jamaica Gleaner story yesterday, Government admitted last week, during a state visit to China, that the site was “now under very serious consideration” to facilitate the project that would be led by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).
The announcement was met by outrage from environmentalists who argue that a large-scale port development there will have a devastating impact on the coastal environment adjacent to and including the Goat Islands.
The president of Jamaica’s premier private sector lobby group, in adding his voice to the discussions Thursday, suggested that Government’s actions on the matter so far have been in violation of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ) agreement signed only weeks ago.
“The way the Government has so far handled the potential major logistics project by a Chinese firm on Goat Islands in a much-protected environmental area in my view, has met neither the words nor the spirit of the partnership agreement,” Zacca said at the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Institute Public Forum held at the University of the West Indies.
He argued: “Such a possible major shift in planning our country’s development, which would have major negative environmental and possibly even negative commercial consequences, cannot be handed to us almost as a fait accompli.”
The PFJ agreement seeks to reaffirm and recommit all signatories — the Government, private sector, unions, and civil society— to the “principles of social dialogue and partnership, specifically to further the process of deepening democracy and participatory decision-making and to engender meaningful participation of all partners in national development”.
The brouhaha around the possible development comes four months after CHEC — which last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Port Authority to explore the feasibility of establishing a new transshipment port at Fort Augusta — rejected that location as it was not big enough to provide the space they needed.
CHEC wants some 3,000 acres of land to build the port. It had showed interest in Goat Islands before, but looked elsewhere when met with environment restrictions.
At a meeting last week in Beijing, CHEC assured Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that it is committed to environmental protection and social responsibility as it looks to expand its footprint in Jamaica.
“Jamaica is a major target market for CHEC and we hope Jamaica can provide us with a platform to continue and expand our collaboration to larger levels,” said Liu Quitaio, president of CHEC parent company China Communications Construction.
Meanwhile, Minister of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill told journalists in China that time is of the essence for the development.
“There are competing interests and they are not waiting on us,” Pickersgill said, reiterating that the Government is aiming for the hub to become operational in 2015, to coincide with the reopening of the Panama Canal.
“I expect that the environmentalists will be defending what now exists and the development ministry and the Government will have to say to the country what it is we will be foregoing and why, because the employment opportunities are very much there,” he added.
But Zacca yesterday argued, “It is difficult at this point for any informed comment about this proposed development, because we don’t have any facts, and therefore, I urge the Government and all the social partners to have frank and fulsome factually based discussions about this proposed development on an ongoing basis, and for sincere meaningful consultation between the partners before any decision is made.”
CHEC is the contractor in the US$150M expansion project that will carry out the construction of a new terminal building and the extension of the main runway. However, the project is in limbo after the Opposition, earlier this year, withheld monies earmarked for the initiative which Government says will open up Guyana to new air travel markets – in Asia and Africa.
The Opposition was unhappy with details on how the monies would be spent.
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