Negotiations surrounding the Cayman Islands’ proposed port berthing facility in George Town are “successfully progressing”, according to a news release issued last week on behalf of the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd.
However, Cayman Islands Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said Thursday that his office had no information that a competitive bidding process for the port project was begun by local government.
“We haven’t been directly speaking to the Port Authority about it recently, but we’ve been getting updates on it from time to time,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”
China Harbour is the Chinese government-owned company selected by the local government to negotiate for the cruise port project.
According to a statement issued by Tower Marketing, China Harbour’s regional director, Tang Zhongdong, said the port development project was “crucial” to the Cayman Islands economy. Right now, cruise ships must use tender boats to ferry their passengers back and forth between the ship and shore. Companies that run some of the larger, newer cruise liners have said they won’t be able to come to Grand Cayman unless there is a dock that allows passengers to walk directly from the ship onto the dock and then to land.
“Recent statistics released by a Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association-commissioned study highlighted the tremendous benefits cruise tourism can bring to a jurisdiction, with cruise tourism generating more than $1.9 billion in direct expenditures and 45,000 jobs during 2011/2012 for the Latin America and Caribbean region alone,” Mr. Tang said. “Once Cayman’s brand new cruise port is operational, we are confident that [Grand Cayman] will maintain its position as a first class, highly sought-after cruise destination and the economy as a whole will see a strengthening as a result.”
Mr. Swarbrick was reluctant to comment on the status of the port development project, upon which his office had provided some advice surrounding public procurement earlier this year. An agreement between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom government signed last year allows the auditor general to monitor public projects in the British Overseas Territory, including the procurement done for those works, while they are ongoing.
The agreement, known as the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, is expected to be signed into law in one form or another later this year.
Officials have previously stated that there was no competitive bidding process with regard to the selection of China Harbour, prior to a memorandum of understanding being signed between the company and the Cayman Islands for sole negotiating rights. That agreement was extended earlier this year.
“All good practice talks about competitive process, apart from certain circumstances where a sole supplier can be engaged,” Mr. Swarbrick said.
E-mails seeking comment on the port development project sent to Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush’s office last week did not receive a response. However, Mr. Bush was away on official business and was only scheduled to return to Cayman on Sunday.
The Caymanian Compass spoke to United Democratic Party General Secretary Ellio Solomon about the port project on Saturday. Mr. Solomon said the ruling government was scheduled to meet Monday in caucus about the port project and a number of other matters and said he couldn’t comment further until then.