Editorial for 05 December: The new 800 pound gorilla

Last week, many of Cayman’s leading contractors had an opportunity to express their feelings about the government’s choice of China Harbour Engineering Company to design, construct and finance a cruise berthing facility in George Town.

None of the contractors who voiced an opinion at the meeting held at the office’s of the Chamber of Commerce supported China Harbour getting a foothold in the Cayman Islands. It’s not that they can’t handle competition, but they’re afraid that the competition won’t be on a level playing field. Because Cayman can’t fund the project itself and China Harbour has access to sources of cheap financing, they are able to dictate other terms that could make competing with them virtually impossible.

In other countries, the Chinese have received concessions like being allowed to bring in their own labour who they are able to house in labour camps and feed with foodstuffs they import themselves. They have also been able to import their own building materials and set up their own concrete plants. Should China Harbour be given the same kinds of concessions here, our local established contractors wouldn’t be able to compete.

This isn’t only about the port project, either. In other countries, once China Harbour establishes a presence, it stays and then dominates the local construction industry. Since China Harbour has publicly stated it hopes to get billions of dollars of projects in Cayman, it seems it plans on being here for the long term.

We don’t know for sure what China Harbour’s plans are. However, George Town MLA Ellio Solomon, who is now heading up negotiations with China Harbour on behalf of the government, did not deny many of the assumptions made by the local contractors.

Of course, Mr. Solomon didn’t seem to be possessed with many facts. At one point in the meeting he said no local companies had bid on the port project, something that is blatantly incorrect.

There is a lot at stake with having China Harbour build the port project. The country deserves to know its intentions before the government and Mr. Solomon, playing the Pied Piper, lead us over a cliff.