Senator Shirley Williams, Jamaica Labour Party spokesperson on industry, commerce and investment, has raised questions about the current shortage of cement, suggesting that it was the result of a flawed policy of creating a monopoly supplier of the important construction material. The shortage, according to Caribbean Cement Company, is due to rains over the past several weeks. But for Williams, the shortage "brings into sharp focus the problems which the country continues to face from the government’s policy of permitting monopolies which are of themselves, not in the public interest".
Williams called for a review of agreements between the government and monopolies to ensure, she said, that they had built-in mechanisms for the protection of consumer rights and guarantees of acceptable levels of performance. "The government must tell the country whether the Caribbean Cement Company has honoured its commitment to utilise 100 per cent of indigenous materials or whether it has indeed embarked upon the widescale importation of clinker resulting in a significant loss of jobs and an increased use of foreign exchange," she said. "The government must tell the country what is its rationale for divesting the gypsum mines to a single entity, thereby precluding other investors access to such a valuable, resource and limiting the consumers choice."
The duty on imported cement was increased to over 40 per cent after Carib Cement made the increase a condition of a US$100m investment in plant upgrade undertaken by its parent - Trinidad Cement Ltd. The duty effectively shut out from the market importers of the product. Williams argued that it was inconceivable that Jamaica, which was faced with flood rains several times annually, "can find it acceptable that a monopoly such as the Caribbean Cement Company can present this explanation as acceptable to the public. It is unfortunate that this shortage is occurring at a time where there are rumours of price increases on cement.