Chamber issues report on China Harbour site visits

The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce released a report on a November fact-finding trip to Jamaica to view projects under construction by China Harbour Engineering Company. Observations include the size of China Harbour and its projects, the company’s apparent willingness to train Caymanians, the company’s ability to finance projects, and conditions of the actual job sites in Jamaica.

Chamber President David Kirkaldy said the projects under China Harbour’s purview range from modest to massive. The company is undertaking about US$465 million worth of construction in Jamaica, including three sites visited by a 10-member delegation from Cayman. Among the delegation were four Chamber representatives, as well as a Compass reporter.

Internationally, China Harbour has operations covering more than 70 jurisdictions, with more than 7,000 staffers and US$10 billion worth of projects.

“They have projects of a scale that absolutely dwarfs what we’re talking about here,” Mr. Kirkaldy said Wednesday, 30 November, during the presentation at Chamber headquarters.

Relative magnitude of Cayman port

The Cayman Islands government and China Harbour are in negotiations to construct a cruise port facility in George Town, build a cruise ship dock in West Bay near the Turtle Farm, and make improvements to the Spotts facility. While the projects may be smaller than some of the China Harbour projects worldwide, the George Town cruise port would rank among the biggest projects undertaken by China Harbour’s Latin American branch, and is larger than any single project the company is constructing in Jamaica.

The largest project on the website of China Harbour-Latin America is the construction of a US$221 million container terminal in Manzanillo, Mexico. The single largest project in Jamaica is the US$64 million Palisadoes Shoreline Protection and Rehabilitation Works project, involving widening a 4.5-kilometre stretch of road leading from Kingston to the Norman Manley International Airport, constructing a seawall and building a boardwalk.

Comparatively, estimates of the cost of constructing the George Town cruise port have ranged from US$141 million (for the GLF proposal) to US$300 million (for the DECCO proposal).

Chamber’s findings

In addition to the Palisadoes project, the Cayman delegation to Jamaica visited the US$10.3 million Christiana Development Road Project and the US$28.8 million Rio Grande Bridge project. In its report on the trip, the Chamber found that “CHEC is one of the world’s largest infrastructure construction companies and demonstrated throughout the site visits, meetings and presentations that the company is capable of completing a variety of large scale, highly sophisticated, infrastructure projects on land and sea.”

Additionally, China Harbour representatives repeatedly said the company has been willing to provide apprenticeship opportunities to Jamaicans, and the same would be true in Cayman. On the Jamaican job sites, about one-third of the workers were Chinese nationals (mainly in higher-skilled positions) and two-thirds were Jamaicans. The report notes China Harbour’s access to inexpensive financing, with a US$400 million loan to Jamaica carrying 3 per cent interest over a 20-year term.

According to the report, “The three worksites visited by the delegation were organised and active and the workers were engaged in their work and allowed to be approached and speak freely and frankly to the delegation.”

Also, “Delegates were able to ask questions throughout the visit and there was no attempt to restrict access at any time. CHEC officials informed the delegation that all three projects were on schedule and within budget specifications.”

Regarding housing for workers, work camps – that had to meet specifications by the Jamaican government – were established near the isolated Rio Grande Bridge project, whereas in other locations the visiting Chinese workers rented available local accommodations. The delegation viewed preliminary drawings of the proposed George Town port project while in Jamaica, but it was stressed that those plans were tentative and subject to change.

The Chamber report also notes a special audit report released in November by the Jamaican Auditor General’s Department, skewering the government’s partnership with China Harbour for a lack of transparency. The investigation led to the resignation of the Jamaican government’s Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry.

According to the Chamber report, “The Chamber delegation considers this report to be an instructive document that can assist with developing any framework agreement between the Cayman Islands Government and CHEC, if the firm is awarded the port development project which would represent the largest infrastructure project to date for the Cayman Islands.”

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