Tourism minister denies conflict over marinas

McKeeva Bush alleges ‘cronyism and nepotism’

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The debate over plans for three new marina developments in Cayman Brac has escalated into a political row amid accusations of “cronyism and nepotism” from the leader of the opposition. 

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell acknowledged this week that he had a link to two of the marina projects. But he said he had recused himself from any discussions where there was a “potential conflict of interest” and insisted “any suggestion that I may have influenced decisions for personal gain is untrue.” 

His comments come amid an increasingly bitter debate over three separate marina projects in the works for Cayman Brac, with McKeeva Bush leveling accusations of favoritism at the government and the Department of Environment. 

Government has granted coastal works licenses to two of the marina projects, brought by MMCB Ltd. It has also granted conditional approval for a marina on the grounds of the Alexander Hotel, pending an environmental impact assessment. 

Environment Minister Wayne Panton said the scope and scale of the hotel marina, brought by the Dilbert family who own the hotel, was far greater than the other two and therefore an environmental impact assessment was deemed necessary. 

But Mr. Bush, who has brought the issue to the Legislative Assembly on several occasions, claims the Dilberts have been treated unfairly in comparison to the other two applications. 

He brought another motion to the House on Thursday, calling for the Dilbert project to be given the same treatment as the two other projects – a commitment he said the House had previously agreed to. 

During the debate, he referenced the fact that family members of Mr. Kirkconnell owned property on the land side of one of the other marina projects and that his company had been involved in selling the land to the developer. 

He added, “The minister’s got a company that had one of the pieces of property under contract – he said he recused himself … I don’t know, but the fact is the sale is concluded, that person got their marinas and the commitment given by this House is now just forgotten.” 

Mr. Kirkconnell, who was not present during the debate because he was on personal leave for medical purposes, acknowledged that his cousins, who live in the U.S., had sold the land for the development of one of the marina projects, close to Carib Sands. He told the Cayman Compass he had a large extended family with numerous land holdings on the Brac, and his family members had also sold the land on which the Alexander Hotel stands to the Dilberts several years ago. 

“My personal assets have been a matter of public record since 2005 when I was first elected to the Legislative Assembly, and as required, have been declared in the register of public interests and open to public scrutiny ever since. On this basis and given the fact that I recused myself from discussions where there was a potential conflict of interest, any suggestion that I may have influenced decisions for personal gain is untrue,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.  

He said he supported all three marinas in principle because the Brac needs development, but insisted that, other than that broad expression of support, he was not involved in the decision making process. 

The Department of Environment had recommended that the Dilberts’ plan be refused, saying it was “demonstrably damaging to the environment.”  

But following a motion brought by Mr. Bush in the Legislative Assembly on the Brac in April, government said the hotel was so important to the Brac economy that it would go against that advice and sanction the project – pending the results of an environmental impact assessment. 

The motion also called for a Brac Environment Oversight Board to be set up to oversee the impact assessment and for all similar projects to get the same treatment. The hotel has since closed indefinitely, with owner Cleveland Dilbert saying he had lost faith in government. 

Mr. Bush, speaking during a lengthy debate in the House on Thursday evening last week, said that motion had been ignored and two other marina projects were being pushed through. 

“There is no way that I could imagine that the two marinas we heard knocking around in connection to the deputy premier [Moses Kirkconnell] would be granted first, no way I could imagine that … 

“It is full of cronyism, nepotism and bad governance. In the absence of following the motion we passed in Cayman Brac, it is a travesty of justice.” 

Minister Panton said the scope and complexity of the Dilbert project, which involves cutting a 100-foot-wide channel through a reef inside a marine park, breaching the storm ridge, crossing a road and connecting into a saltwater pond, was far greater than the other two. 

He said the other projects were relatively minor and their impacts were well understood by the Department of Environment, which had advised that an environmental impact assessment would not be necessary. 

He said it was an “absolute misrepresentation” to compare the coastal works applications brought by MMCB Ltd. to the Dilberts’ in terms of scale. 

He accused Mr. Bush of an abuse of the system and said he was astonished at the attack on the deputy premier, who he said had done everything he could to support the project. 

“It amazes me that someone like the deputy premier, who has been such an advocate for the Brac, and for the application brought by Dilberts, is now in a situation where he is berated by the leader of the opposition and others and all sorts of castigations and allegations are made.” 

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The Salt Water Pond beside the now-closed Alexander Hotel on Cayman Brac. An application to build a marina at the site has led to much controversy. – PHOTO: STEPHEN CLARKE

1 COMMENT

  1. This Salt water pond is a real beauty. However being on the outside listening to the inside of this fiasco, I would say something smells fishy.
    A peaceful and fair resolution is definitely needed; otherwise I see this row becoming a bigger feud in the future that will last from generations to generations..

  2. Sorry but it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t try to influence choices made regarding projects that he has connections to. Even if his hand are clean there is way too much motive for him to influence the decisions.

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