Port accusations fly

Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush said Wednesday that the previous government’s plans for the development of a cruise ship berthing facility in central George Town would have granted its control to a private developer.

A Memorandum of Understanding drawn up between the previous government and the Atlantic Star company had given Atlantic Star the sole right to talk with the government about a proposal to move the cargo port and to construct a cruise ship berthing dock. However, that proposal never moved beyond the discussion stage, according to members of the previous government.

port accusations bush

Mr. Bush

‘(The previous memorandum) proposed that the port be moved to their site [referring to land owned by Atlantic Star] and that control of the port would be in their hands,’ Premier Bush said Wednesday. ‘Nothing went to Central Tenders [Committee] – even with the giving up of control of our port.’

Mr. Bush’s government has taken criticism recently over a memorandum of understanding it said it would sign with DECCO Ltd. (Dart Enterprises Construction Company) and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association for exclusive negotiating rights on a new cruise ship berthing facility. Cabinet is expected to consider the agreement further, and was taking legal advice on whether it needed to be presented to the Central Tenders Committee – which oversees bidding on all government projects greater than $250,000 in value.

The memorandum would not constitute an award of government work; it is merely an agreement to talk exclusively about cruise berthing options.

The premier has argued that similar public attention was not paid to the previous government’s port redevelopment efforts.

The former leader of government business, now Opposition Leader Kurt Tibbetts, said he was unaware of any talks involving ‘giving away’ control of the port to Atlantic Star.

‘The (Memorandum of Understanding) that came to Cabinet, and Cabinet records will bear me out…said no such thing,’ Mr. Tibbetts said Wednesday.

Former Cabinet Minister Arden McLean also said he recalled no such discussions taking place during the previous administration.

The previous discussions got hung up on talks over an environmental impact assessment for the port redevelopment, and never moved any further, Mr. Tibbetts said.

Auditor conflict resolved

Just as this new controversy was arising, it seemed a recent public spat over the new cruise ship berthing proposal had been resolved.

In attempts to move the current port project forward, a meeting was held Thursday morning between Port Authority board members and representatives from the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s Office to review on-going negotiations.

Auditor General Dan Duguay said recently that his office intended to look into the port redevelopment and cruise berthing plans simply because they represented a major government project.

‘They were very open about what they had done to date and why they had done it,’ Mr. Duguay said, adding that he was encouraged by the information he had received from the Port Authority board.

Mr. Duguay said he had also been promised further information such as expressions of interest submitted for the cruise berthing project, and criteria used to evaluate those submissions.

‘We’re just trying to better understand a major government project,’ he said. ‘I’m not interested in aggravating the situation any further.’

Port Authority Board Chairman Stefan Baraud said the governing body agreed during Thursday’s meeting to bring any proposed Memorandum of Understanding with DECCO Ltd. on the cruise ship berthing project to the Central Tenders Committee before it is signed.

‘We’ll be meeting with the CTC (today) to discuss the next step prior to signing the MOU,’ Mr. Baraud said.

Mr. Baraud said the agreement was being drafted with the assistance of the attorney general’s office and that the Port Authority had retained an independent advisor to protect its own interests in the negotiations. He stressed that the memorandum itself did not commit the Cayman Islands government to a contract.

He said Mr. Duguay admitted during Thursday’s meeting that most of his information about the cruise berthing project had come from the press.

‘I’ve invited him to be involved in the process more,’ Mr. Baraud said.