Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has denied that any public funds were spent on advertising that suggests signing the petition for a referendum on the cruise port amounts to a no-vote for the project.
Answering questions in the Legislative Assembly from George Town Central member Kenneth Bryan, Mr. Kirkconnell confirmed that government had hired PR firm Fountainhead to market the controversial project. He also acknowledged that government had used other resources, including using civil servants for voice-over spots in radio advertisements, to drum up support for the cruise piers.
He said he did not have the figures for how much government had spent on advertising the cruise project, but would provide those details at a later sitting of the house.
Asked specifically whether his ministry was paying for advertising claiming signing the petition for a referendum would kill the port project, he said it was not. A Facebook post was running several months ago on a government-sponsored page, indicating “signing the referendum – a no vote for the port.” However, there is no evidence there was any cost associated with this post.
Under further questioning from Mr. Bryan and other opposition members, Mr. Kirkconnell again emphasized why he believes a referendum would delay the project to such an extent that it would effectively kill it.
He suggested loan agreements were in place with the cruise lines that would likely expire if a referendum was required.
“It has been common knowledge that we have entertained the idea of the cruise lines themselves offering finance for the project,” he said.
“When they offer a financial package, they offer it with timing. I made a statement a couple of months ago that we have six-month clock ticking. I don’t think that is out of ordinary when you go to a bank or lending institution to say ‘I would like to borrow money.’”
He said the terms of the loan offer could change or the offer could disappear completely if there were delays. He said the time it would take for a referendum would likley mean the loan offer would expire and the negotiations would have to start again.
It was not clear from his comments how the loan offers from the cruise lines factor into the ongoing tender process involving three consortiums vying for “preferred bidder” status on the project.
Mr. Kirkconnell was speaking during question time on the opening day of the second meeting of the 2018/19 session of the Legislative Assembly. The legislators are scheduled to debate 18 bills over the next few days. That process started Wednesday afternoon with debate over a new Stalking Bill.