Port development a blunder

I have watched with interest and disappointment as the UDP Government has moved from blunder to blunder on the cruise berthing project.

The first blunder was when the UDP abandoned the cruise berthing and cargo port project plans I had begun; the second blunder was when the UDP entered into an agreement with DECCO to establish cruise berthing facilities without a mechanism to secure formal commitments from the cruise lines and the Premier’s simultaneous announcement that there would be no Environmental Impact Assessment done; the third was when they abruptly terminated the agreement with DECCO after negotiations “broke down”; the fourth blunder was Mr. Cline Glidden’s announcement that they were about to enter into an agreement with GLF Construction Corporation. Mr. Glidden said they would use the EIA, which DECCO had apparently previously commissioned but which has to this date not been made public. The fifth blunder was Premier McKeeva Bush’s announcement that the mysterious Chinese were prepared to do the cruise berthing facilities if GLF failed; and the sixth was the recent announcement from him that he had terminated the GLF agreement.

These series of blunders have denied our country the much needed cruise berthing facilities, which will have a significant negative economic impact for our country beginning with a 25 per cent decrease in cruise tourism in 2011.

It would be easy for me to sit back and simply say “I told you so” but as a country we need to look for solutions to this problem.

I warned this UDP Government in 2009 that if they abandoned the plans and EIA I started implementing, the country would be facing a one to two year delay with this project. Mr. Glidden’s response to me was “no” as he said that they would be starting construction in the first quarter of 2010. Now here we are in the second quarter of 2011 and for the second time in less than one year we have terminated an agreement with yet another proposed developer.

There is no certainty as to who will do this project and when.

It defies logic that the Premier would terminate the agreement with GLF almost immediately after GLF advised the government it could mobilise within six weeks and demonstrated that it had financing in place. It is not possible for the Premier to select yet another developer/financier, have them mobilized and on the ground in less than six weeks.

Why did he make this decision? That decision by the Premier is suspicious at best and will ultimately need to be investigated further.

I believe that politicians must seek to work together in the interests of our country especially on projects we agree on. I also understand that it can never be in our collective best interests for any government to fail. The bottom line is that if the government succeeds the country succeeds and we all succeed. If the government fails we all fail. Those who are in opposition to the government who believe that we should continue to allow the government to fail as a strategy to win the next election is making a fundamental mistake and have miscalculated where we are economically at this point. They would be well advised to focus on saving our country because the next election might not matter very much if we don’t.

Based on my experience with projects of this nature, we cannot, unfortunately, move from where we are now to an agreement with yet a third proposed developer and achieve cruise berthing facilities in less than two years. This means that the initial blunder by the UDP to abandon a well thought out cruise and cargo policy and plan is going to result in a four year delay with this project and a continued decline of our cruise industry.

The UDP Government must immediately formally invite the cruise lines back to the table. This project cannot and must not be undertaken without their commitment to deliver a specific annual minimum number of passengers during the term of this agreement, which will likely be 20 years. This is why the agreement I signed with Atlantic Star Limited to establish cruise berthing and cargo facilities allowed for negotiations with third parties to help finance this project and those discussions had indeed begun with the cruise lines.

The majority of the cruise lines are owned by either Carnival or Royal Caribbean although many operate under different brands and they are keen to see cruise berthing facilities established in Cayman. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class mega ships cannot be tendered and will bypass the Cayman Islands on their western Caribbean itinerary. This problem is made worse by Royal Caribbean’s decision to redeploy to other regions some of their smaller ships that previously called on Cayman.

If the UDP Government is prepared to, in good faith, invite the cruise lines back to the table as a party to the new negotiations and demonstrate some stability with moving this project forward, we may be in a position to convince Carnival and Royal Caribbean to prop up our cruise arrival numbers via increased port calls from their various sub-brands.

Because cruise lines plan and begin to book their itineraries 18-24 months in advance of a cruise, the UDP Government must act now if we are to have a chance of saving our 2012 cruise tourism winter season.

Finally, I believe that those who are responsible for this mess must be held accountable. Until we embrace real accountability in our country for failures such as these not very much will change at the policy table.

In closing, I encourage all tourism service providers, including public transport operators, to begin preparations for what will unfortunately be our most challenging cruise tourism summer season to date. Examine your business practices and operations to determine where you can make adjustments in your expenditure to offset the inevitable loss of revenue that will come during the upcoming summer months.

Charles Clifford