Although his government contract is not due to expire until May, the Cayman Islands Port Authority’s managing director has been shown the door by the board of directors.
Managing Director Paul Hurlston has been put on “gardening leave” – not reporting to the office, but still being paid – until the end of his contract on May 21, port chairman Errol Bush confirmed Tuesday. Mr. Bush said a letter informing Mr. Hurlston of the board’s decision was delivered to him during a Monday meeting.
“It was contemplated [previously] that we would do this, but we just wanted to wait until after the Christmas break,” Mr. Bush said.
The port chairman told the Cayman Compass in December of the board’s decision not to renew the current managing director’s six-year contract, which was approved in the waning hours of the former People’s Progressive Movement government administration.
“His contract was not an open contract. It ends in May 2015,” Mr. Bush said at the time. “He has to give us notice of his interest to renew. [The board], in turn, has to give him notice of our interest [in continuing the contract]. We did not want to renew his contract.”
Mr. Hurlston did not return Cayman Compass calls or emails seeking comment.
A page-and-a-half advertisement appeared in the Cayman Compass on Friday trumpeting the achievements of Mr. Hurlston during a career that began in 1992 when he was named port assistant director.
“The port director looks back on some of his achievements which has directly given rise to … the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands now being one of the top five cruise ports in the Caribbean and also one of the most efficient cargo handling ports,” the advertisement read.
The ad lists a number of Mr. Hurlston’s achievements since August 2001 in the areas of management, cargo operations, new projects, cruise operations and human resources.
Mr. Hurlston’s departure comes against the backdrop of persistent rumors of sweeping changes at the port authority, as well as remarks made in Legislative Assembly last year that all port staff members would have to reapply for their current jobs. Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said port staffers “had every right to be concerned” about their jobs.
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell read a letter in the Legislative Assembly, signed by the port board, which indicated that talk of staff changes had been chalked up to a “malicious rumor.”
The port authority hired accounting firm Deloitte, via a tendering process, to perform what the deputy premier termed an “organizational review” at the authority, aimed at “getting us back on better financial footing.”
The port authority has reported significant financial losses in two consecutive fiscal years from which government auditors indicated it may not easily recover. In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, the public agency lost more than $2.6 million.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has said financial performance at the port through the first three months of the current 2014/15 fiscal year appeared to be making a turnaround, but the full year’s results won’t be known until next summer.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick noted in his evaluation of the agency’s financial statements between 2011 and 2013 that the losses prompted significant concern about the port’s ability to continue operating.
“Given that the port authority has already increased fees in 2010, there is limited room for further maneuver on the revenue generation side, if the expected downward trajectory of cargo and cruise passenger volumes continues,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “The likely options include staff rationalization and direct government support to sustain operations.”
Errol Bush did not paint such a grim financial picture last week, but agreed that losses totaling millions per year could not be sustained ad infinitum.