On Thursday, Premier Alden McLaughlin purported to “correct” a Cayman Compass editorial that stated his Progressives government had squandered an opportunity to obtain land adjoining Smith Cove from the Dart Group. Premier McLaughlin then proceeded to lay out, in detail, how accurate the Compass’s observations were.
The next day, the premier again stood in the Legislative Assembly (where “parliamentary privilege” grants him legal immunity for defamatory utterances) and announced that his government had just reached a tentative agreement to buy the land — demonstrating not simply how “accurate” the Compass was, but indeed how “right” we were.
Let’s compare passages from the Compass editorial to the premier’s floor speech.
Compass: “[T]he government not too long ago had the opportunity to acquire the privately held portion of land adjoining Smith Cove[.]”
McLaughlin: “[W]hat was proposed was a linked arrangement where the public would lose future access rights to the Seven Mile Beach through land owned by Dart along the West Bay Road. In exchange the public future access rights would be replaced by other property owned by Dart – including at one point the land adjoining Smith Barcadere.”
Compass: “Instead of making a deal, Premier McLaughlin and his government picked up their chips and said, in effect, no thanks.”
McLaughlin: “[C]ertain items were considered as absolute non-starters by this government […] The non-starters agreed by this government included trading away any public access rights to our beaches – even though this may have provided a dedicated public beach elsewhere.”
Compass: “We certainly understand if the government didn’t want to acquire the Smith Cove land amid all the moving parts of the complex NRA Agreement and its amendments.”
McLaughlin: [R]emoving the consolidation of future public access rights of way from the third amendment was the right thing to do. And with that decision, the swap for land such as that adjoining Smith Barcadere was automatically taken off the table.”
The premier then adduced a woefully facile excuse for his government’s inaction on acquiring the Smith Cove land, consisting of two parts: (1) Dart never proactively offered the land to government in a stand-alone transaction; and (2) Even if Dart had, the government’s finances were extremely tight at the time.
Those arguments are easily belied:
First, Dart has a phone number. (For government’s future reference, it’s 640-3500.) Premier McLaughlin’s government knew Dart was willing to part with the land because it had been included in the NRA Agreement proposal. Nothing was stopping the government from reaching out to Dart and offering to acquire the property. That’s what private developer TFG Cayman Ltd. did, successfully. Moreover, that’s what the Progressives did, too, eventually, when Minister Kurt Tibbetts talked TFG into a potential deal last week.
Second, this government did have the money to buy the Smith Cove land. The property will be purchased using roughly US$4.25 million from the Environmental Protection Fund. As of May 2013, when the Progressives took office, the fund contained more than $43 million.
Of course, the reason why Premier McLaughlin seemed so upset with us over the Smith Cove affair isn’t because our editorial was incorrect — it’s because it was correct. The development of the Smith Cove property represented a major political liability for the elected members from George Town, including the premier, in the upcoming election. Hence the swiftness, hence the spin.
Amid all of Premier McLaughlin’s recent speechifying, we admit there’s still one thing we don’t understand.
Quoting from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,” the Premier said, “One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.”
Now, was Premier McLaughlin referring to Clifton Hunter High School (certainly a monument), or the George Town Landfill (certainly edging ever closer to the height of the moon)?