Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush said Friday that negotiations with China Harbour Engineering Company on the construction of cruise berthing facilities for Grand Cayman would have to be extended for a few more months.
Mr. Bush said government was looking into the terms of the “definitive agreement” with the Chinese government-owned developer, which has proposed to build cruise berthing facilities in George Town as well as constructing cruise facilities in West Bay and making improvements to the Spotts dock area. The proposal also seeks a study of Cayman Brac cruise tourism.
However, the premier said government is awaiting the completion of a financial review by KPMG and would have to present the proposal for the definitive agreement to Cabinet members, the Central Tenders Committee and the Auditor General’s office for review.
That process is expected to take several months, Mr. Bush said.
“We can’t see them getting started with the dock [referring to the George Town cruise berthing facility] until September,” Mr. Bush said, speaking via telephone from Cuba. “We cannot delay beyond that, because even Cuba is opening up to cruise.”
The premier had just gotten an eyeful of some Cuban hotels on his two-day trip with Cayman Airways officials, one of which was expected to start receiving four different cruises in the near future.
At recent public meetings around Grand Cayman held to discuss the China Harbour cruise port project, Premier Bush has complained about “good governance bureaucracy” holding up business with regard to the port agreement. Mr. Bush also questioned why the government in the United Kingdom seemed to have a particular problem with the China Harbour proposal.
“We should be dealing with [the Chinese] because there is more revenue that this country can gain from dealing with them,” he said. “Why should every other little country around the globe deal with them? Why should our own Mother Country deal with them, but we shouldn’t deal with them?
“They want to keep us down, some of them in the UK, too,” he said. “They don’t want us to get ahead because of the competition, but as long as I’m here they’re going to get competition.”
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said his office played no role in decisions about management or control framework of the China Harbour proposal, or indeed any other government programmes.
“All we can do is provide advice or submit formal reports to the Public Accounts Committee as to what we consider good practice for managing government programmes and achieving value for money,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “It is the responsibility of management to make the decisions understanding the associated risks.”
Governor Duncan Taylor’s office said last week that it did not intend to issue any statements about the China Harbour project and has previously said the governor’s responsibility in Cayman is to “promote good governance”.
One local group that did express concerns last month to George Town Member of the Legislative Assembly Ellio Solomon, who is now heading up talks with China Harbour on behalf of government, was the Cayman Islands Contractors Association.
According to a letter sent to Mr. Solomon on 24 February, local contractors were concerned over a “repeating pattern” in the company’s dealings with governments in the Caribbean region. According to the group this included using resources to offer attractive financing, and promising to hire local labour only to turn tables after contracts are signed and indicate local labour and materials are too costly.
“Invariably, workers from China are brought in and are housed and fed in owner-supplied housing and cafeteria facilities (work camps),” the contractors association President Kris Bergstrom wrote in the 24 February letter.
Mr. Solomon has said that agreements between China Habour and government have indicated that the majority of workers – some 80 to 85 per cent – for the project would be local.
“The second major concern focuses on the proposed construction of additional retail facilities in excess of 100,000 square feet [this figure has been given out as 50,000 in other public discussions] to be owned and operated by China Harbour for the term of the contract,” Mr. Bergstrom wrote. “The recent downturn in the economy has seen approximately 50 businesses close in downtown George Town over the past three years. Our existing retailers certainly do not need additional competition.
“This could be the ‘death-knell’ for our downtown merchants and George Town in general.”