Logistics hub and wisdom
By Wilberne Persaud
Responding to last week's column 'Faulty economic diagnoses and prescriptions die hard' two correspondents raise interesting connected issues.
The first was "prompted to ask a few questions" because the column "made a lot of sense". Partly what made sense relates to flaws - concealed incompatibilities in associated outcomes - in our trade, agriculture and tourism policies that collide with each other in attempts to achieve independently derived and agreed objectives.
His core issue is policy - the role of government in stage-setting for development.
"Has any government of recent times" he asks, "taken a look at logistics in Jamaica locally, i.e. building out railway lines that would move cargo by bulk?" And, "Why are we still bothering with the Norman Manley International Airport; demolish it, turn the area into the largest port by dredging to create new lands, and keep the current name. It makes far more economic sense to utilise Vernamfield while preserving as much agricultural land as possible. Jamaica's potential air power would increase its viability as a hub of the Americas. Don't you think? If so, what are the local authorities waiting on, to make a move on those projects."
These issues are deemed high-priority matters in the portfolios of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce and the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing.
Actually, the correspondent's suggestions are contemplated by the two ministries and hark back to Arthur Lewis' work of 1949.
In The Industrialisation of the British West Indies (1951), Lewis put a lot of store by the location of our region, the yet-to-be-born-then-die West Indies Federation. Its proximity to both North and South America, commonality of legislative background with the United States and English as the language of commerce were all, Lewis thought, genuine positives for Caribbean industrialisation.
Newfangled proposition for the time, though Britain recognised it could no longer hold on to the colonies the way it once did, support for non-sugar industrial development didn't exist. Local commission agents protested, disdained the idea.
Fast forward to 2013 when the concept 'logistics hub' has taken hyperactive real life in places like Singapore and Dubai alongside established operations of Rotterdam, coupled with expansion of the Panama Canal soon to be completed.
Here's an opportunity Jamaica can ill afford to miss. So the minister of industry speaks of the creation locally of a logistics hub and having generated "significant global investor interest with missions to China, Singapore, Dubai, Panama and the Netherlands, where we have received enthusiastic support for the initiative. Similarly, we have received support from the multilateral agencies, including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank".
work remains undone
In the same presentation, however, the minister admits much work remains undone including "enactment of enabling legislation" and creation of "supporting infrastructure".
Jamaica's Port Authority contemplated kindred issues for decades. What has been the hold-up? Here our next correspondent's concern fits perfectly. Her question, generated by Parliamentary debates is "Why Port Authority of Jamaica had no understudy to Noel Hylton all these years? Why he had to stay til he is so old?"
I really can't answer the first, but the second question suggests displeasure at the length of his tenure. This I'd like to address.
The December 20, 2012 Gleaner published a news report: 'After 38 Years As 'Captain', Hylton To Set Sail From Port Authority'.
Eighty-one-year-old Noel Hylton the paper reported, "the man who has served as chairman and chief executive officer of the Port Authority of Jamaica since 1975, is to step aside in 2013." A search was on for a chief operating officer to serve alongside Hylton - late, but nevertheless a good sign.
So why did we allow such an important position to be filled by a man who stayed on as an octogenarian, to age 81?
I'll answer with an aphorism I've created: It's likely impossible to find a wise young man, for humankind accumulates wisdom with age, notwithstanding the fact that numerous foolish old men do exist!
Noel Hylton epitomised this truism about wisdom and your columnist has first-hand experience of this on his watch both at Air Jamaica and the Port Authority of Jamaica.
Hylton would rapidly cut through volumes of verbiage in minutes. At Air Jamaica, he kept a map on the wall beside him. He would calmly turn to it and move into discourse on income levels, demographics and a proposed merger of national airlines serving the Caribbean. He could quickly assess Jamaica's potential for transshipment from the Panama-Canal. He could determine the contours of strategy and figure out what he did and didn't know.
Perhaps most importantly, he famously knew where to go to find out the things he absolutely needed to know. Remarkable! This was pre-Google!
He respected subordinates but recognised when turf protection, hiding data to appear indispensable or other non-essential, counter-productive impulses guided their attitudes or behaviour.
He could call them to book with no hard feelings. He got the big picture like a macro lens imaging a honeybee or doctor bird gathering nectar from exotic flowering plants.
The questions my first correspondent asks are matters Hylton contemplated and which now, admittedly late, appear to be a focus of deliberations and negotiations our Government is undertaking.
The point is experience, institutional memory and wisdom by their very nature are uncommon, perhaps rare attributes that deserve respect, careful nurturing and abundant use when available.
News is that principal of The University of the West Indies Mona campus, Professor Gordon Shirley, has been named to head the Port Authority, replacing Mr Hylton. I note expressions of discomfort at Mona having to be led by a stand-in. Such concerns are valid, but that's another discussion.
Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on impacts of technology change on business and society, including capital solutions for innovative Caribbean SMEs. Email: email@example.com.