Jamaica’s logistics hub: when hubba-hubba doesn’t get you past first base

Over 15 months ago, Dr. Omar Davies, Jamaica’s minister of transport, got the country excited about plans for a logistics hub to be developed on the island. Back then, he talked about an ‘initial framework agreement’ with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). Since then, I don’t recall seeing or reading about a ‘final’ or even ‘intermediate’ framework agreement. If China is the economic dragon, then it seemed to have gone to sleep, and its fire was not going to blow in our direction. 

Several weeks ago, Dr. Davies’ Cabinet colleague, Anthony Hylton, ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, informed the country about a ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MOU) he had entered into with two foreign entities, which had made ‘unsolicited expressions of interest’ in investing in the development of the logistics hub–Krauck Systems and Anchor Finance. Unlike CHEC, barely a soul knew about these firms and their reputations seemed thin, to say the least, based on flimsy information offered on their websites, and some bizarre hostile reactions to local media questioning. Not everyone likes the glare of publicity, so I would not hold the odd reaction on the phone against Anchor Finance. Given that this deal was supposed to involve about US$ 5billion of investments, Jamaicans could be excused for thinking that they need not fret about the sleeping dragon, because Anchor was on its way to take us to the Krauck of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

You know how to whistle, but can you dance?
 But, like with many B-movies, the plot thickened and the smell of acrid smoke started to get worse. What little I know about big-ticket investments told me that, if we weren’t getting a pig in a poke, then we were about to get a poke in the eye. The MOU became its own drama, as this was signed under cover of darkness and a distinct lack of public fanfare. No photo opps! Who does that? 

The Cabinet did not seem at one on this Krauck-Anchor interest business, and in time-honoured joined-up government fashion, they started to ‘walk back’ from the early (some think premature) announcements about more logistics hub-hub. They formed a committee and we saw the unroll BG of balls of red tape to put this project into stall mode. First, a 30-day information-gathering period was put into play under the Memorandum of Understanding. This period was dedicated to requesting and obtaining confidential information from the two companies. Then, The National Logistics Initiative Council (NLIC) was appointed by the Cabinet to, among other things, review the information provided by Krauck Systems and Anchor Finance Group LLC. The Council, headed by Professor Gordon Shirley, chairman and chief executive officer of the Port Authority of Jamaica, comprises officials from across government including, the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, the Ministry of Finance and Planning, JAMPRO, and the Attorney General’s Chambers. 

NLIC has reportedly reported to Cabinet twice and both reports are understood to be ‘inconclusive’. Again, in my limited experience, that sounds like no-likey from NLIC. Whether that gets said, formally, soon, I won’t venture. 

How we’ve moved nowhere much in several years of talking about the logistics hub is worthy of academic study. But, the people have been teased and tickled and yet we’ve still to see signs that there will be any erections. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)