Last Tuesday, September 3, 2013, Dr. Omar Davies, Jamaica’s Minister of Transportation and Works, rode into town under the auspices of the Jamaica National Building Society. With his team of technocrats, the Minister made a presentation to New York’s Diaspora vis-à-vis the expansion of highway facilities and the development of the logistical hub to seize advantage of the increased capacity of the Panama Canal.
As a former Minister of Finance, Dr. Omar Davies is aware of the precarious state of the Jamaican economy. Beginning in the 1970s, the Jamaican economy for the last 40 years has experienced an absence of consistent growth. Further complicating the dismal economic picture, after the collapse of the global economy in September, 2008, the Jamaican government, with Bruce Golding as Prime Minister and Audley Shaw as Finance Minister, were forced to go hat in hand to the International Monetary Fund.
After securing an agreement in the same way that they muddled the extradition of “Dudus” Coke, they made a mess of the IMF agreement. The abandonment of the agreement was done without informing the electorate that the JLP government had failed to meet the periodical test. For these debacles, the Jamaican electorate returned them to pasture in the election held December, 2012.
The new PNP government resumed the negotiations and a new agreement is in place. IMF agreements are notorious for not stimulating economic growth but imposing economic austerity. The agreement is to bring down the massive accumulated debt to manageable proportions and to balance the annual budget and eliminate the yearly hemorrhaging of deficits. In the agreement, there are clauses that stress economic growth but thus far as the last quarter revealed, the economy contracted by 0.4 vis-a-vis the gross domestic product.
Omar Davies made it clear in his presentation that the country could not incur any further debt. Infra-structural development sorely needed would come not from indigenous capital funds but from the privatization of assets. Highway 2000 would continue through privatization where developers would recoup their capital expenditures from the collection of tolls. The completion of the North-South highway has resumed as a Chinese firm possesses the technical dexterity to complete the mountainous project.
The grand design is to link the island with highways to cut down on the time of travel and to move goods and services at a faster clip. Highways connect Montego Bay to Negril and from Montego Bay to Portland. The North-South connection is well underway. The connection from Portland to St. Thomas to Kingston does not generate enough traffic to make it profitable for a developer and would have to be undertaken by the government when they are less inundated in debt.
Highways per se do not foster sustained economic growth and Jamaica has cast all its eggs in the expansion of the Panama Canal.
The country, finding itself in a penurious state, is forced to rely on foreign direct investment (FDI). Much of the investment for the push for economic expansion is not coming from the United States as occurred with the expansion of bauxite in the 1960s but from Chinese companies like, China Harbour. China Harbour was instrumental in the raising and protection of the road to the Norman Manley International Airport which was prone to flooding. The Chinese also were involved in building the Trelawny Stadium and another unused stadium built in K.D. Knight’s constituency when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs.
China’s economy for the last couple of decades has been the fastest growing economy in the world. For those decades, China grew at an average annual rate of 10 percent. This year the Chinese economy has slowed to an expected growth rate of 7.5 percent of GDP, significantly higher than the growth rate of the 2 percent expected in the United States. China has a favorable trade balance with the United States and with that excess of foreign exchange it has used that excess capital to invest and expand its footprint throughout the globe.
China is destined to play a pivotal role in Jamaica’s logistical hub. The Kingston Harbour is to be privatized to a Chinese company and there are plans to expand Jamaica’s capacity to service the increased shipping that will crisscross Jamaica as the new locks in the Panama Canal are completed in 2015.
A new developmental possibility has emerged as a result of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s visit to China. The Chinese have proposed establishing a 3,000 acres industrial park on Goat Island that while under construction would create 2,000 jobs and after completion would employ 10,000 workers. The total investment would be $1.5 billion. In the original plan, an enterprise zone was also to be constructed at Caymanas Park.
An investment of this magnitude employing 10,000 workers would have a transformative impact on the Jamaican economy that has been wallowing in stagnation for decades. But environmentalists have cautioned that the damage to the environment would be severe and have suggested alternative sites. There will be an environmental study and the challenge for the Chinese developers is whether this gargantuan project can take place without too much environmental damage.
In its own development, China has been mindless about environmental damage and belatedly recognizes the importance of the environment. Dr. Omar Davies made it clear that the human environment in Jamaica is already toxic with a high rate of unemployment and economic growth is desperately needed to develop the human potential of the marginalized population.
The Chinese government seems to be providing the curry goat feed in of all places on Goat Island.