JIS News

Cabinet has declined an application from Jamaica Hi-Tech Farms Limited (JHTF) for a new five year lease for the Spring Plain/St. Jago property in Clarendon, and instead, to re-possess, and re-advertise the land for divestment.
The move is at the recommendation of the Board of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ).
According to a brief provided by Information, Culture, Youth, and Sports Minister, Olivia Grange, at Wednesday’s (Feb. 11) post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House, this decision was consequent on the poor state in which the property was found during a visit by bank and government officials in August 2005.
The property, which is owned by the Commissioner of Lands, is situated on the Toll Gate road, which leads to the Milk River Bath. During the 1980s, it was utilized for an agricultural joint venture between the Governments of Jamaica and Israel.
According to the brief, the property was one of several slated for divestment by the National Investment Bank of Jamaica (NIBJ), which successfully negotiated more than 560 acres of the lands. The remaining 552 acres, which also had a mango orchard and packaging house, subsequently became available for divestment. However, according to the brief, several attempts by the NIBJ to dispose of the property proved futile.
The brief outlined that in 2001, JHTF’s principal, Sam Wong Chew Onn, expressed an interest in leasing the Spring Plain property to establish a farm to undertake “modern technology driven production” of fruits and vegetables for the local and export markets.
The entity, the brief explained, was formed as a Jamaican company with a joint venture partnership with Chinese investors, whose proposed capital development investment input was an estimated US$1.3 million. The local partner (Wong Chew Onn) would provide working capital and operating costs estimated at $10 million.
“The development plan submitted by the company indicated that the project would provide employment for 2,000 Jamaicans, mainly from the surrounding areas,” the brief outlined.
The document pointed out, however, that pursuant to a request for a status report from then Minister of Development in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in August 2005, the NIBJ organized a visit to the property, involving representatives from the Bank, National Land Agency (NLA),and the Development Division of the OPM, which unearthed several concerns.
These include underutilization of the 70,000 square-foot packaging house, and only one of seven cold rooms was being used to store a quantity of Chinese vegetables. It was also discovered that only 12 acres of the 552 acres of land, representing approximately two per cent of the total, were in production with Chinese vegetables. This area, according to the brief, was “effectively being cultivated as ‘back-yard gardening'”.
Further to these, the mango orchards seemed not to have been pruned or bushed since the initial lease agreement was effected in 2002, with several acres being destroyed by fire. In addition, the brief said, reports surfaced that only five Jamaicans and four Chinese were employed at the time of the visit, as against an estimated 2, 000 persons outlined in the development plan.

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