Campaigners collecting signatures for a petition to force a people-initiated referendum on the controversial cruise port project met with the governor Friday as they continued their push for Cayman Islands voters to decide the issue.
The group, Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, says it is getting close to the target of 5,288 signatures – representing 25 percent of the electorate – required to trigger a public vote on the port.
Amid news that government has already agreed to a contract with two major cruise lines to help finance the project, the group was seeking assurances that the governor’s office would help ensure the constitutional requirement for a referendum is upheld if and when the petition hits its target.
In a brief press release about the meeting, CPR Cayman stated, “The group raised concerns that included the government’s overall lack of transparency, the significant environmental impacts to the marine environment, and the financial implications of Cayman’s most expensive and complex capital works project.
“The group also sought assurances that the Governor’s Office, with constitutional oversight for good governance and security, would ensure that the constitutional rights of the Caymanian people would be upheld when the petition signed by 25 percent of registered voters is presented to the government, in accordance with Section 70 of the Constitution.”
The Governor’s Office confirmed the meeting had taken place, but there was no indication from either party that the governor would intervene in the issue in any way. He has previously said that the cruise port is a matter for Cayman’s elected government.
In an emailed statement released in response to questions from the Cayman Compass, the Governor’s Office wrote, “The discussions were constructive and informative. The Governor believes it is important to be accessible to all sectors of society in the Cayman Islands to enable him to listen to a cross section of views on the important issues facing the territory.”
Earlier this month, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced that Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corporation had made “formal financial commitments” to help build the cruise berthing facility.
He said the two cruise lines, which are also reported to be involved in one of the bid teams for the project, would work with whichever consortium was selected as preferred bidder and no public money would be spent on the dock.
Asked if and how the existence of the contract with the cruise lines impacted the chances of a referendum on the project, the Ministry of Tourism said it was not in a position to say.
“With respect to the port project itself, the formal agreement, which has been approved by Cabinet, represents a firm financial commitment and is a significant step forward in the cruise berthing facility,” a ministry spokesperson said.
It is not clear if the agreement involves any financial penalties for the Cayman Islands Government if a referendum is called and the project is delayed or discarded entirely.
The ministry spokesperson said the level of financing, the time limits and other terms of the agreement with the cruise lines are confidential. The final design and cost of the project will not be finalized until the bid process to design, build, finance and maintain the facility is complete. Three consortiums are currently competing in the final stages of a lengthy tender process.
Asked how the arrangement with the cruise lines fit in with that wider procurement process, the spokesperson said, “This agreement means that the cruise lines will provide funding for the project in partnership with the preferred bidder who ultimately wins the contract to construct the piers.”
The cruise line investment will be repaid through passenger fees.
The spokesperson added, “The cruise lines investment in the construction of the Cruise Berthing Facility means that they have a vested interest in the project. Under this type of public-private partnership, it is in their interest, as well as in the country’s interest, for cruise passenger numbers to be maintained at a level which facilitates repayment of the financial agreement. The Outline Business Case estimated that with a berthing facility in place cruise passenger arrivals could increase to 2.3 million per year.”