West Bay dock deal probed

Commission of Enquiry

Government’s purchase of a piece of land to be used for the proposed West Bay cruise tender dock was the matter of much discussion and evidentiary statements in the ongoing Commission of Enquiry.

Cabinet Minister Charles Clifford said in his statement that he gave a copy of minutes of a Port Authority Board of Directors meeting that occurred 30 April 2004 to Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales.

Those minutes recorded the discussion that took place prior to the board of directors’ decision to approve the purchase of the property at a price nearly triple what the land was appraised.

Among many other matters, the minutes dealt with the board’s efforts to acquire enough land around the proposed West Bay cruise terminal.

‘Some owners… have expressed their desire not to sell,’ the minutes stated.

One piece of property in particular was considered critical for the project by former Port Authority Chairman McKeeva Bush.

‘The chairman suggested that an offer be made for Block 5B Parcel 39 of between CI$650,000 and CI$700,000, which would be double the… valuation of this property,’ the minutes state. ‘He said that the acquisition of this particular parcel of land is critical if this project is to move forward and also noted the owners’ reluctance to sell.

‘The chairman explained that other factors outside a valuation price have to be considered when Government attempts to acquire property. The intrinsic value to the owners, other people factors, the economic benefits of the project and the need to diversify the concentration of the cruise product out of George Town have to be considered in the final price.’

The minutes also stated that although the owners had been asking CI$850,000 for the property, through negotiations they were now willing to sell for CI$650,000.

Mr. Clifford, who was then the deputy chairman of the Port Authority board, expressed his concern to the board about purchasing the property for such a high price, and the minutes reflected his concerns.

‘The deputy chairman underscored the importance of the tourism product and the management of cruise tourism,’ the minutes stated. ‘The offers approved for the lands that significantly deviated from the valuators figures could… set a precedent and result in the inflation of the asking price by the owners for the other properties [the Port Authority wanted to buy for the project].

‘The deputy chairman appreciates that there is a limited fixed budget for this project and expenditures have to be balanced as not to have the majority of the funds spent on acquiring land; a situation which could result in a reduced size facility which is unworkable.’

The board approved the offer for the Block 5B Parcel 39 property and three other parcels. Other board members in attendance were Clement Reid; Colford Scott; James A. Bodden; Collier Powery for Carlon Powery; Wil Pineau for David Foster; Raybourne McLaughlin; and Frank Flowers.

Commissioner Sir Richard Tucker asked Mr. Clifford during the Commission of Enquiry last Wednesday if he thought all of the other board members were reputable people in the community and Mr. Clifford agreed they were.

‘And they all voted in favour of buying the particular property at that price? No one voted against it and no one abstained,’ Sir Richard asked.

Mr. Clifford agreed all the other board members had voted for the matter, but he explained that the way things normally worked with the Port Authority Board was that the when the chairman put forward a proposal, the board normally supported him.

Sir Richard asked Mr. Clifford why, if he was so concerned about the matter, he wasn’t more adamant with his objections at the board meeting.

‘It’s not appropriate in my view for permanent secretaries to publicly challenge the minister,’ he said. ‘It’s more appropriate to raise the issue privately.’

Mr. Clifford testified that he did try to raise his concerns with Mr. Bush privately before the Port Authority board meeting.

Some time afterwards, after the decision to purchase the property had been made, Mr. Clifford said he went to former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy with his concerns, but Mr. Dinwiddy declined to order an investigation.