Government has claimed that holding a referendum on the issue of cruise piers in George Town would delay the project to such an extent it would effectively kill it.
With community groups collecting signatures in an effort to trigger a public vote on cruise berthing, the Ministry of Tourism has begun a pro-port social media campaign, including the claim that, “signing the referendum = a no vote for the port.”
Government is hosting a public meeting on the cruise project on Wednesday night, Sept. 26, at the Family Life Centre in George Town, starting at 6:30 p.m. The Opposition announced Tuesday that it is also planning a series of public meetings.
The government’s campaign has drawn criticism from those pushing for a referendum, who say it is misleading. The petition calls for a public vote on whether or not to proceed with the plan for piers in George Town harbor. If the group is successful in collecting signatures from 25 percent of the electorate – 5,288 registered voters – there would be a separate ballot on cruise berthing.
The organizers of the referendum campaign say they have received support from people on all sides of the debate who want the chance to have their say at the ballot box.
A Ministry of Tourism spokesperson stood by the social media claim, telling the Cayman Compass that holding a referendum at this stage would likely mean the bidders would walk away from the process. Government is in the final stages of a two-year tendering process to find a conglomerate to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the new cruise and cargo port.
The spokesperson said a referendum – even if it ultimately resulted in a yes vote to cruise berthing – would derail that process.
“Funding does not have an indefinite shelf life and there are no guarantees the current bidders would still be interested in the project two or more years into the future. If that type of delay were to occur, the effort to get us this far in the procurement process will have been wasted,” the ministry spokesperson said.
“We already know from experience that the procurement process takes approximately two years. Consequently, holding a referendum now would effectively stop the project, irrespective of the referendum outcome.”
The social media page and internet site, Support Our Tourism, have been set up by the Ministry of Tourism to provide information and advocate for the piers.
The post suggesting that signing the petition would be a “no vote” for the piers attracted a backlash from supporters of the referendum.
Johann Moxam, former president of the Chamber of Commerce and one of the advocates for a public vote on the project, said government should take the time to ensure it had the people’s support before taking on such a significant project.
“A decision of this magnitude, given the size, scope and potential costs to the country, requires a thorough national discussion. The government and project leaders must be transparent and clearly provide a comprehensive plan and full details as the environmental, financial and socioeconomic impact will be significant to our country.”
He said government had failed to provide updated data and information about appropriate infrastructure or a new environmental impact assessment given the new design and scope of the project.
“Failure to do things properly with a clear indication from the voting public who will be left dealing with the consequences will be unfair and detrimental to this and multiple generations in the future. The voice of the people should be heard. What are the government afraid of, if this is good for the country? Prove it and help the people be fully informed based on all the facts,” he said.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has argued that the public effectively voted for cruise berthing when they elected the current government.
In an op-ed published in the Cayman Compass as part of a special feature last week, he wrote, “It has taken five years to arrive at this stage in the procurement process. Delaying now, in this final phase, to hold a referendum on a project the people have already given the government a mandate to do will stop the piers and the cargo port expansion, irrespective of the referendum result. The value from the investment already made will be lost.”
The Opposition’s district meetings, which begin in North Side on Tuesday, Oct. 2, aim to garner support for a people-initiated referendum and to discuss alternate plans for the future of the cruise industry in Cayman.
Opposition leader Ezzard Miller and his political group are supporting a referendum, which they believe will force government to disclose more information about the port project.
Mr. Miller added, “At these upcoming meetings, we will be sharing what our own research has revealed so that the people, who will ultimately bear the burden of the outcome, will be properly prepared to come to their own informed conclusions.”
The schedule for the Opposition’s islandwide district meetings, which all begin at 7:30 p.m., is: Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the North Side Civic Centre; Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the Bodden Town Civic Centre; and Thursday, Oct. 4, at Savannah Primary School Hall. Meetings in other districts meetings will be scheduled in the following weeks.