Dismissing Opposition criticism of the cruise port project as “fake news,” Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell denied the anticipated cost of building two new piers in George Town harbor had spiraled to $300 million.
Mr. Kirkconnell, who is also tourism minister, did not say how much the piers are actually expected to cost, however.
Initial projections in the business case for the project put the price tag at $150 million.
He acknowledged that a decision to move the piers into deeper water to reduce the impact on coral reefs had brought additional expense.
But he insisted that government was not picking up the tab or offering any financial guarantee for the project, which he described as essential if the island wanted to remain in the cruise business.
“There is no risk to government on this project,” he added.
Mr. Kirkconnell said interested consortiums had been through a pre-qualifying process and had now been short-listed ahead of the bid process to design, build, finance and maintain the piers.
He did not elaborate on government’s intended financing model for the project. The business case envisaged that the piers could be funded through a combination of the fees that currently go to tender operators, around $5 per passenger, and a share of the $14 per-passenger “head tax” charged by government for every cruise ship visitor.
Critics have questioned whether that combination of fees would provide sufficient annual revenue to cover the cost of building and running the piers, without significantly impacting government’s revenue from those head taxes.
Mr. Kirkconnell has said the ultimate formula will be finalized in the forthcoming tender process.
He dismissed claims from the opposition that government was prioritizing the project over education.
“The one thing I agree with is we all want more education facilities, more spend on education. Our model to spend more on education is to grow revenue, strengthen the economy and use that money for education, health as we identified,” he said.
“If we don’t create opportunity to grow business in this country, we won’t have money to provide any services.”
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller said in his speech, Wednesday, that he received some anecdotal information about the port, including documents that had been left on his vehicle’s windscreen. He said he was informed the entire cruise project would cost $300 million “plus” and that government had agreed to provide “all fees related to cruise passengers” to the cruise industry for 50 years.
In return, the cruise industry would put $50 million to $100 million into the project, leaving some $200 million worth of funding in question.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the figures cited by the opposition leader were simply wrong: “$300 million in capital costs is not correct. That figure was repeated many times, it’s not correct. The $50 [million] to $100 million cruise line contribution? I don’t know where that came from. Wrong.”
He said the government had taken a firm decision that cruise piers were needed and said the business case inquiry for the project backed that up.
“What we want from a policy standpoint is overnight visitors, and we want cruise. We want to balance and manage them and make sure we maximize the spend when they are in [the] Cayman Islands,” he said.
“There are more Caymanian entrepreneurs servicing the cruise industry with tours and attractions than there are servicing the overnight visitation. That’s the opportunity and that is what we pushed forward for.”