After the sinking of cruise berthing discussions between the Cayman Islands government and China Harbour Engineering Company, it is unclear what happens to any money China Harbour invested in the planned improvements to Spotts Jetty, or whether the government owes the company a refund.
“The Ministry of Tourism and Development has not been contacted by China Harbour Engineering Company,” the ministry’s chief officer Stran Bodden said.
While the George Town cruise facility was the primary component of negotiations, the June 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between government and China Harbour also described cruise piers near the Turtle Farm in West Bay and upgrading the alternative landing site in Spotts. Later, discussions expanded to include an exploration of cruise tourism in Cayman Brac.
US$3 million for Spotts
The June 2011 memo includes an addendum specifically about the Spotts project: “CHEC agrees to advance [US$3 million] for the early start of the captioned project under a contract as agreed and signed with the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands”.
Mr. Bodden said, “The Ministry of Tourism and Development is not aware of a signed agreement that commits the government to potential liability in the matter of the China Harbour Engineering Company proposed improvements to the Spotts Landing.”
The Caymanian Compass then showed Mr. Bodden where the memo – which is signed by then-Premier McKeeva Bush on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development – explicitly states that the government will reimburse China Harbour for Spotts work if the entire deal did not go through. According to the memo, “The Ministry of Finance of the Cayman Islands agrees, that in the unlikely event that projects one, two, and three, as listed in the MOU, have not reached to the stage of a signed contract by the end of November 2011, CHEC will be reimbursed through the Ministry of Finance of the Cayman Islands for all funds advanced CHEC on the Spotts Jetty project to that date.”
Mr. Bodden said, “In regard to your question, the Ministry of Tourism and Development is not aware of what funds were expended by China Harbour Engineering Company on the Spotts Landing Project between 13 June, 2011, and 30 November, 2011. Please note that I was appointed on 1 February 2012.”
China Harbour (Jamaica) communications manager Jennifer Armond said, “Thank you for your interest in our Cayman Island[s] situation, however in response to your questions we have no comments to make on the issues raised, at this time.”
According to the memo, the Spotts project was to start by 15 July, 2011. After that deadline passed, Mr. Bush said the project had been temporarily delayed.
He told the Compass at the time, “The MOU calls for China Harbour to commit up to US$3 million, beginning as soon as possible, on the Spotts Jetty, which we need in the worst kind of way because of inclement weather. If China Harbour and the government and the port do not reach a definitive agreement, then we are committed to pay them back what they have spent, up to US$3 million on Spotts.”
In late December 2011, the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands applied for planning permission to construct major improvements to Spotts, including $3.2 million for parking, buildings and a trellised walkway, and $1 million for an expanded dock. The plans were designed by local firm OA+D Architects.
In February 2012, the Central Planning Authority approved the Spotts project.
Citing concerns about the port selection process, the United Kingdom compelled the government in the Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory, to drop negotiations with China Harbour in November 2012.
Journalist Norma Connolly contributed to this story.