Business leaders and government representatives discussed their initiatives and wish lists during the second Future of Cayman Forum. Friday’s conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, was part of the ongoing collaboration between the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce and the public sector.
Following the initial forum in 2010 and two years of work on five key economic drivers, the 2012 forum focussed on two topics, “build a smarter infrastructure” and “develop talent”.
Chamber past president David Kirkaldy, who acted as conference chairman, said, those “were identified as the two most important drivers at this time”.
The other three drivers are “create a business friendly climate”, “enhance quality of life” and “diversify the economy”.
Mr. Kirkaldy said that while they were just looking at two drivers on Friday, they all interrelate.
Speaking at his first public event since being named chamber president Wednesday, Chris Duggan said the organisation would seek to make the Future of Cayman initiative a key part of the conversation leading up to the May 2013 elections.
“We’ll be sure to ask candidates for the future election if they support the five drivers and how they would work toward achieving those goals,” he said.
During a panel on waste management, Water Authority-Cayman deputy director Tom van Zanten said the sale of its sewerage system has been called off for now. In May, the authority re-issued an invitation for tender bids for the system, which was valued at $19.4 million for fiscal year 2008/2009. Submissions were due 15 August for the 12.5 miles of public wastewater infrastructure.
At the moment, the authority is completing an expansion of its capacity to treat wastewater before it begins expansion to its collection system, Mr. van Zanten said. Once the treatment system is fully built out, it will be able to treat 10 million gallons of wastewater per day, which he said is the anticipated total waste flow for Grand Cayman through the next 10 to 15 years.
The authority is looking to invest about $3 million during the next three years to renovate some “problem areas” in the existing collection system, he said.
Mr. van Zanten said government directed the authority to divest itself of the sewerage system.
“We tried that,” he said. “At the moment, for various reasons, the sale is presently on hold.”He said the cost of collecting and treating wastewater is three to four times as expensive as producing and distributing water. He estimated that it costs in the region of $1 million to install each mile of sewerage pipeline.
An additional challenge is that while areas with the highest population densities, such as George Town, are the most logical places in which to install centralised sewerage systems, Mr. van Zanten said those areas also contain customers who may find it the most difficult to pay the sewerage rates.
Regarding the proposal by government and Dart Group to close the George Town landfill and open a new waste management facility in Bodden Town, Department of Environmental Health director Roydell Carter said if those discussions fall through, they could be looking at continuing the George Town site for many years. For that to be viable would require looking at advanced technologies, engineering and management processes, he said.
Department of Environment director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said her position is that the territory should have an agreed-upon, over-arching policy on waste management, and then fit in specific proposals such as Dart’s landfill.
“The current debate over, ‘is it a good thing, is it a bad thing’, is because we’re operating in an environment where there isn’t an overall national policy,” she said.
Mr. Carter said a future landfill needs to have proper lining and should incorporate a waste-to-energy system and recycling efforts. He said new waste-to-energy systems can be modular in design, so that Grand Cayman could start with a small system and expand it over the years. Here, the primary purpose of waste-to-energy would be to reduce the amount of material going into the landfill, not necessarily generating electricity.
Richard Hew, president and CEO of Caribbean Utilities Company, said he doesn’t think there will be any problem with the electric provider buying electricity generated from a waste-to-energy facility at the landfill.
Today, the company is weighing the results of a competitive tender process where it sought the generation of up to 13 megawatts of renewable energy.
“We are currently negotiating with two suppliers to bring large solar onto the grid,” he said.
Mr. Hew said that hopefully by 2014 or early 2015, they will have 13 megawatts of energy being generated by large solar projects, plus two megawatts generated by various residential and commercial customers who have smaller solar panels or wind turbines on their properties.
“We’ll see what impact that has on the system and go from there,” he said.
Leaders from the Islands’ telecommunications sector discussed upgrades to Cayman’s communications infrastructure and resulting trends.
The single largest project is WestStar TV’s installation of an optical fibre network. “In five years, the Cayman Islands will have the most advanced communications network in the world, bar none,” WestStar chief executive officer Bob Taylor said.
LIME General Manager Anthony Ritch said the increased competition bodes well for consumers. “In no more than probably a year, with some new entrants to the market place … we’re going to see those prices plummet even more,” he said.
Premier McKeeva Bush wrapped up the forum with formal closing remarks. In his speech, Mr. Bush said there will be a forum in January regarding the government’s plans for the recommendations by the Term Limit Review Committee, which released its initial report earlier this year.
The committee’s initial recommendations included: Extending the current seven-year term limit on foreign workers’ residence to 10 years, allowing any workers who make it past seven years of continuous residence to apply for permanent residence and generally allowing the Cayman Islands government to socially engineer plans aimed at developing the workforce and controlling the overall population.
“We cannot build this country with a few people,” Mr. Bush said.