Push for people’s port referendum

Cruise ship passengers board a tender to return to their ship in George Town harbor. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Supporters of a referendum on plans for new cruise piers in George Town harbor will begin collecting signatures Saturday as part of a push for the people to decide the fate of the controversial project.

Cayman’s constitution allows for a “people initiated referendum” on any topic of national importance if a petition signed by 25 percent of the electorate is presented to Cabinet.

That means campaigners must collect at least 5,288 signatures based on the current list of registered electors.

Several individuals and community groups are said to be involved in the push for a referendum. Concerns around the cost of the piers and the environmental impact on reefs in and around George Town harbor have been cited among the key objections to the project.

A new organization, Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, has been set up and has launched a Facebook page to spread the word.

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In a statement sent to the Cayman Compass, the group said, “The Petition for Referendum on the proposed Cruise Berthing Facility is a grassroots initiative of concerned citizens who believe that the issue of the proposed Cruise Berthing Facility is a matter of national importance and that the financial, socioeconomic and environmental costs should be examined and weighed carefully by the people of the Cayman Islands.”

It adds, “We call on our government to act with transparency towards its people, in the best interest of our country and all its citizens and residents, and to make full disclosures of all pertinent information relating to the proposed Cruise Berthing Facility to date, including full disclosure of the Final Business Case Study, an updated Environmental Impact Assessment and other studies and reports, which consider the modifications to the original design and proposed cargo facilities, and projected costs and financing model details, to allow us – the citizens of the Cayman Islands – to make an informed decision about our future via referendum.”

There are strict rules around how signatures are collected and recorded and there will be no online version of the petition, though there is a process for overseas voters to submit electronically.

According to the Cayman Islands Elections Office website, the total number of registered electors on July 1 was 21,150, meaning 5,288 people would be required to sign the petition to force referendum.

In the referendum itself, at least 50 percent of registered voters – 10,576 people based on current numbers – would need to turn out and vote against the cruise berthing project for the result to be binding on government.

Gabriella Hernandez, of Save Cayman, one of the groups supporting the referendum effort, said the campaign was backed by a variety of concerned citizens.

She added, “We support this community initiative to give the people a chance to exercise their democratic right by explicitly stating their support or rejection for proceeding with this project that poses significant socioeconomic and environmental risks that will impact us for generations.”

Opposition politicians have also launched a separate campaign calling for government to voluntarily hold a referendum on the issue. Opposition leader Ezzard Miller tabled a private members’ motion on the issue, which will be debated in the Legislative Assembly next week. If that motion fails he said he would support grassroots efforts for a people’s referendum.

Government is currently in the final stages of a bidding process and has shortlisted three conglomerates bidding to design, finance, build and maintain the facility in return for a share of the revenue stream it brings.

The Ministry of Tourism took out a full-page advertisement in the Cayman Compass this week defending its transparency record on the project.

It said it had released as much information as possible without jeopardizing ongoing negotiations and had published multiple reports including an outline business case study.

The advertisement warned that if Cayman does not build the piers, “We risk losing a large percentage of our cruise tourism industry.”

Asked about the push for a referendum this week, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said in a statement, “The process for a referendum is enshrined in the Constitution, which is the highest law of the land and contains the rules and principles for the governance of this country. The Cayman Islands Constitution clearly articulates the process for initiating a referendum; the result of which would be binding on government.”

Only registered voters can be counted in the petition for a referendum. A separate version of the petition is also available to those who are not eligible to vote, including Caymanians under 18 and residents, though that version will serve only as a demonstration of public opinion and is not binding to the government.

The Cruise Port Referendum Cayman group will be collecting signatures at Hurley’s supermarket in Grand Harbour, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The group said it would announce further locations and dates in the near future and volunteers will also go door to door with copies of the petition in districts on all three islands.

For more information, visit the Facebook page or to volunteer contact [email protected]

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that the petition is not aimed purely at opponents of the dock but at anyone who thinks the people should decide on the future of the project.

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