Farm­ers at Cay­manas cul­ti­vat­ing land without lease

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­mond Camp­bell ed­mond.camp­bell@glean­erjm.com

A SE­NIOR ex­ec­u­tive from the Fac­to­ries Cor­po­ra­tion of Ja­maica (FCJ) yes­ter­day strug­gled to ex­plain to a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee how the en­tity al­lowed farm­ers to cul­ti­vate cane on hun­dreds of acres of land at Cay­manas in St Cather­ine for years without pay­ing a cent for lease.

This led the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC) of Par­lia­ment to ask per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the su­per Min­istry of Eco­nomic Growth and Job Cre­ation, Au­drey Sewell, to carry out a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter.

The rev­e­la­tion was made yes­ter­day by act­ing man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the FCJ, Ken­neth Rowe, who also stunned PAC mem­bers when he di­vulged that after eight years of tin­ker­ing with plans to de­velop the much-talked-about Cay­manas Eco­nomic Zone, a fea­si­bil­ity study was just now be­ing done by a spe­cial en­ter­prise team, ap­pointed by Cab­i­net two weeks ago, to de­ter­mine the vi­a­bil­ity of the project.

Mem­bers of the PAC ex­pressed shock yes­ter­day that de­spite mak­ing a de­posit of $90 mil­lion to ac­quire the Cay­manas lands from the Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, the FCJ has not sought to re­cover any money from the cur­rent oc­cu­piers who pro­duce sugar cane.

There were testy ex­changes at yes­ter­day’s PAC meet­ing be­tween Rowe and con­tro­ver­sial law­maker Ever­ald Warm­ing­ton. After press­ing Rowe for an­swers about the 200 acres of land now be­ing used to cul­ti­vate sugar cane, Warm­ing­ton con­tin­ued: “Is the land cap­tured?

Rowe hit back: “That’s your in­ter­pre­ta­tion, Sir.”

Warm­ing­ton: “Don’t be rude!”

UN­HEALTHY STATE OF AF­FAIRS

Chair­man of the com­mit­tee, Peter Phillips, in­ter­vened and also queried whether a pub­lic as­set was be­ing made avail­able to a pri­vate op­er­a­tor free of cost.

“It is an un­healthy state of af­fairs,” said Phillips, who was the for­mer finance min­is­ter.

Sewell promised that the board and cur­rent man­age­ment, which she said are “new to the sit­u­a­tion”, would carry out an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pro­vide an­swers to the com­mit­tee.

Turn­ing to the Cay­manas Eco­nomic Zone, com­mit­tee mem­ber Mikael Phillips cas­ti­gated var­i­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions since 2009, which he said spent some $190 mil­lion on the project but, to date, have not pro­duced any tan­gi­ble re­sults on their in­vest­ment.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing that after eight years, we are nowhere near mov­ing this project for­ward,” he said.

Warm­ing­ton sup­ported his col­league as he in­sisted that the first or­der of busi­ness by any govern­ment should have been the com­mis­sion­ing of a fea­si­bil­ity study on the eco­nomic zone.

Peter Phillips, who said he wanted to steer clear of pol­i­tics, said re­spec­tive ad­min­is­tra­tions have been “go­ing around in cir­cles col­lec­tively”, not­ing that with such a long delay in im­ple­ment­ing the project the “mar­ket is not go­ing to wait for us – we are go­ing to miss the op­por­tu­ni­ties we are seek­ing to ex­ploit.”

The com­mit­tee was also told yes­ter­day that plans to de­velop 100,000 square feet of fac­tory space at Naggo Head in St Cather­ine have stalled.

Rowe told the com­mit­tee that the project was fac­ing fi­nanc­ing prob­lems, not­ing that the FCJ could not se­cure a govern­ment guar­an­tee, as this would run counter to the Govern­ment’s ar­range­ment with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

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