MULTIMODAL JAMAICA

Jamaica 2018 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Lester Michael Henry, Minister of Transport and Mining, on building up intermodal transport to support the mining industry and attracting foreign investment.

Lester Michael Henry
BIOGRAPHY
Lester Michael Henry has served publically since 1980. Prior to becoming Minister of Transport and Mining in 2016, he was the Minister of Transport and Works from 2007-2011 and Shadow Minister of Transport from 1993-2007. Notably, he also served previously as Minister of Culture and Minister of Tourism. In addition to his public service, he has made significant contributions to education and literature in Jamaica, winning the Silver Musgrave Award for Literature in 1998. He also published the first integrated science books for schools in Jamaica as part of his accomplished career as a compiler, author, and publisher. He remains committed to serving his constituents and promoting youth in Jamaica.

What are your priorities as Minister of Transport and Mining?

The role of the Mining and Transport Sector in Vision 2030 was laid out in 2007, when I was first minister and sought to implement a multimodal transport system, connecting road, rail, sea, and air. The railway connects all of the ports of Jamaica and, therefore, we do not need to put in that infrastructure. Rather, we are moving forward in terms of connecting the railway with other transportation, such as the East-West leg of highway 2000, which itself needs be extended further and will now be extended to Williamsfield in Manchester. That is supposed to connect Vernamfield, a World War II airfield that was only returned to Jamaica 10 to 15 years ago, with our highway network. We are pursuing that with what is called an Aerotropolis development concept, which will allow us to bring goods into the port of Kingston, put it on the railway, deliver it to Vernamfield, and then put it on the plane for the rest of the world. Vermanfield is in the reach over one billion people within a 10-hour flight. The Aerotropolis will drive the development of the cities and towns to which it is connected; therefore, Vision 2030 must relate to the growth of this development strategy. This is part of what was implemented with the North-South Highway, which was the vision when I was previously minister and has now been implemented. The rail service is already serving the mineral and mining sectors, especially the bauxite companies. The logical extension is to incorporate cargo and, by extension, passengers on those routes. An important element that gives economic growth is of course the heritage side to the railway, which can move the visitor on an excursion that is second to none. Had it not been for the railway, the mining sector would not have been able to hold its own during the downturn of the bauxite industry. Now that the value of minerals is increasing, it has led to an uptick in the importance of bauxite and limestone. There is also potential for copper and gold, and we are exploring our potential oil resources.

How does the expansion of the Kingston Container Terminal relate to your vision?

The extension of the port comes under another Ministry and is particularly important for development. We also intend to expand the reach of ports as well. That is why we show collective support rather than focus on one port. Now I want to connect the Kingston container terminal to the Cargo Airport at Vernamfield. Ian Fleming Airport is being developed to be a regional hub in the Caribbean, as air transport is going to become critically important and will connect to ports as well.

What kind of interest are you seeing from foreign international companies who want to get involved in the intermodal transport system?

The interest is expanding exponentially. We have to understand how to structure that and consolidate it. Every day I hear from about four different investment companies with the capability to develop Vermanfield. I have three representatives from overseas companies coming to see me who are ready to invest. JISCO is ready and has budgeted to spend USD1 billion each year for the next three years. The ministry must ensure investment flows do not get delayed in order to maintain investors' interest in Jamaica. Regulations and legislation, including those in special economic zones, are important in this regard, and laws should help create a conducive business environment. Right now, I see that the generation of alternative power is creating a lot of unexpected issues and is impacting the way that power is distributed. Jamaica has to recognize that we are in competition with others and, therefore, by extension, we have to keep pace with new developments.