Port politics: 'The Council' comes to life

Flexing its muscles against its creator, the National Conservation Council is attempting to impede the Progressives government’s pursuit of the cruise berthing project downtown.

In the run-up to the passage of the National Conservation Law in late 2013, we warned readers that the legislation would grant tremendous authority to the Council, arguably making it the second-most powerful governmental body in Cayman, next to Cabinet. We predicted that the Council would emerge as a force against development, yet would do little to promote actual environmental conservation.

Two years later, the Council has been rather short on actual results, for example, designating protected areas to conserve protected species, or funding significant projects from the $50 million-or-so Environmental Protection Fund (outside of its allocation of $200,000 for, of all things, green iguana eradication efforts).

The Council has, however, found time to inject itself into government’s evaluation process for cruise berthing, raising objections that appear designed to delay the project, perhaps to death. On Monday, we reported that the Council is finding fault with the Ministry of Tourism’s leadership of the project and is protesting the usurpation of the role of the Environmental Assessment Board, which includes two departmental representatives who also happen to serve on the Council.

Generally speaking, what we have here is an unelected special interest group, empowered with authority, that is in active opposition to the stated policy of Cayman’s elected government.

Remember that the 13-member Council includes five civil servants, including Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie, setting up a conflict between the civil service and the elected government. Remember, too, that Minister of Environment Wayne Panton can be viewed as the Council’s patron and champion, setting up an intra-Cabinet conflict with Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell.

And don’t forget who’s footing the bill for both sides of the argument, for the port and against it: Cayman’s taxpayers.

Last December, we outlined the various powers of the Council, saying, “That’s the nature of the beast that Cayman has created for itself. We have yet to learn of its temperament.”

In light of our statement, consider the Council’s announcement (which appears in today’s Compass) that it is restricting the ability of journalists to record the proceedings of their heretofore “public” meetings. The Council is also instructing members of the media to sign in (i.e. register so that “they” know who “we” are) before attending their meetings. As reason for its interfering with the press, the Council resorts to the tired canard that it is attempting “to respect the privacy of any members of the public who may attend …”

The Council’s action against the media is, of course, ludicrous — and has nothing to do with ensuring the “privacy” of people who are attending a public meeting in a public space with the opportunity of influencing public policy, and has everything to do with “control” over what journalists (not just the Compass) are able to report or photograph about the Council’s doings to the wider public at large.

In summary, in just about a year the Council has added the following items to Cayman’s “endangered list”: the divisions of power between elected ministers, appointed civil servants and unelected activists; the Westminster tenet of “Cabinet collective responsibility”; freedom of the press; and, open government in the sunshine.

And they’ve barely gotten started.


  1. I have always believed it and have said it for many years when we were fighting about the central mangrove swamp in Meagre Bay. They want power to control development, nothing more nothing less. Especially the director of the D.O.E. has to look at each project even if it’s only a subdivision between family members. Too much power it will cost us in the future.
    They promised to leased the land from owners who didn’t want to sell at this time? I would prefer to lease my land then sell 50 acres for nothing. So sad.

  2. Gina has the responsibility to give advice to government regarding the environment. Her job is not to actively undermine the government’s decision making process and actively campaign against them. She has used the same press release public relations company as the Save Cayman/Save Tender Company group to release anti-port propaganda to the media, that is way overstepping her position and is shameful. The government should oust her and put someone in that position who will actually help this island progress instead of inhibiting every project. We need someone who will look to protect the environment, but while being able to put emotions aside at look toward the greater good of the island and its economic well being.

    She can’t even protect conch and lobster from poachers, and yet she is spending all her time meddling in things she shouldn’t be meddling with, as she doesn’t understand it.

  3. What a complete joke!
    The National Conservation Council wants to accuse other departments of not being transparent and acting inappropriately but at the same time wants to take away freedom of the press for what is supposed to be a public meeting!!!????
    This board needs to be restructured or better yet disbanded altogether.
    What a crazy power grab being sought by the DOE director. She not only sits on the NCC, she sits on the EAB and the national trust. This lady needs to be brought back to Earth. No civil servant post should handle that kind of power without being an elected position….NONE

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