A series of confusing and often bitter negotiations regarding the proposed development of a George Town cruise ship berthing facility in June of last year have been detailed in Port Authority board meeting minutes released under the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law.
The minutes of five port board meetings held between 20 April and 25 June reveal that some board members did have concerns about Premier McKeeva Bush’s decision to drop Italy-based GLF construction in favour of China Harbour Engineering Company as early as April, with particular concerns about the personal liability members might incur as the result of such a decision.
However, minutes of a port board meeting held on 15 June noted that members “unanimously agreed” to move forward with China Harbour Engineering after being given some details in a “ministerial memorandum of understanding” drawn up between the government and the Chinese government-owned firm.
According to the minutes for the 15 June meeting: “The premier informed the board of directors that he had signed a … memorandum … with China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. for the development of cruise berths in George Town and the redevelopment of Spotts and investment in Turtle Farm.
“A financing structure will be developed that allows locals to invest in the project. Spotts landing will be developed as a part of this package and US$3 million is earmarked for this … DECCO’s intellectual property information will be purchased by China Harbour.”
DECCO is the Dart Enterprises Construction Company; a previous bidder for the George Town cruise berthing facility construction whose proposal was turned down for political reasons, according to port board meeting minutes.
After these statements by the premier at the 15 June meeting the minutes record: “The member[s] unanimously agreed to now move forward with CHEC [China Harbour].”
The port board members apparently thought the better of this move about a week and a half later, after receiving some legal advice from local attorney Dan Priestly and comparison figures on the port project from an accounting firm.
At this time, in June 2011, GLF was threatening legal action if the company was not reinstated as the cruise port project developers.
The minutes of the 24 June meeting read: “Legal action would be detrimental to the country, creating uncertainty and potentially halting, for an indefinite time, the cruise port project. In addition, it would be extremely costly to defend, said the chairman [referring to former Port Board Chairman Stefan Baraud].
“The chairman [Mr. Baraud] also said that having met with China Harbour Engineering Company, it is his opinion that they are not fully prepared at this time to commence this project in a timely manner. The advice given to the chairman from the port authority’s financial adviser KPMG and legal counsel Mr. Priestly has been to continue with GLF as the port developers.”
At the end of the 24 June meeting, board members “unanimously agreed” to return to GLF as the George Town cruise port developer.
This decision was communicated to Mr. Bush, according to the meeting minutes.
A day later, Saturday, 25 June, board members and Mr. Bush met again, and the premier indicated that it was government’s position to move forward with China Harbour as the cruise berthing facility developer. After the premier said this, board member Noel March left the meeting.
The Port Board Chairman, Mr. Baraud, told Mr. Bush the board was concerned legal action by GLF could be “damning to the country”. Local attorney Steve McField, who also attended the meeting, said that any legal action by GLF would be fought by government and that individual board members would not be held accountable for the entire board’s decision.
Former port board deputy chairman Woody Foster also noted that “he has never been comfortable with the way the process has gone since the initial selection of Dart Enterprises Construction Company” and that this view had been expressed to Mr. Bush in the past.
Mr. Bush responded by stating that for some time “he has lost confidence in some of the board members in their ability to be impartial in dealing with China Harbour and GLF” and that he would be changing some of the members. Following the 25 June meeting, chairman Baraud and deputy chairman Foster resigned their posts. Mr. March’s appointment to the board was terminated.
Earlier this year, Cabinet members agreed to a settlement with GLF construction for “less than $3 million” with regards to the port project. Mr. Bush has said that sum will be recouped from the sale of “intellectual property”.