Wednesday, April 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: Good, bad and ugly of cement production

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MONOPOLIES ARE BY their very nature bad for a country and worse for consumers. So the disclosure last week that there will be competition in the cement supply business is welcome news for Barbadians.

For many years, the Arawak Cement Plant in St Lucy has controlled the supply of the product locally. It has employed a number of Barbadians, including some highly skilled personnel, and provided a range of indirect jobs. In many ways, it has been a blessing.

The plant has also been at the centre of various environmental problems, with neighbouring residents having complained for years about issues ranging from dust to damage to their properties. In these ways, it has been a curse.

The real fear hanging over Arawak is whether it will have a future if its parent, Trinidad Cement Company, is gobbled up by Cemex, the giant Mexican cement manufacturer.

In our economy, cement is certainly the glue to the construction sector, as it is the crucial component in buildings. With much of the country’s economic recovery hinged on the resuscitation of construction, an adequate supply of attractively priced cement will be critical.

Ready Mix Limited, the largest local user of cement, has also said it can source the product more cheaply from Suriname, but the reality is that buying it locally can be a fillip for the economy.

That is why the announcement by Mark Maloney, managing director of Preconco Limited, that he and a consortium of business people will construct a modern cement plant at the Flour Mill Site, Spring Garden, St Michael, has also generated much interest. The promise of a cheaper product will certainly be welcomed.

There is no viable recycling potential for cement which means each new project needs new cement. In the construction of our roads, we have avoided the use of cement, though this may no longer be an option going forward.

But, long before the finished building material can reach consumers, some concerns must be answered.

Cement production entails generating lots of pollution, in the form of carbon dioxide emissions which cause global warming. So as a small island developing state in the forefront of promoting a green economy, we must of necessity be concerned about any new cement manufacturing plant.

Mr Maloney’s contention that the $40 million project should be operational by April and that it will be providing much needed jobs, both directly and indirectly, is sweet music to many ears.  

There is one issue which Mr Maloney must outline to the public. In the haste to become operational, he needs to state whether an environmental impact assessment study has been undertaken.

If so, the findings must be made public.

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