Leader of the Opposition Ezzard Miller

Opposition leader Ezzard Miller claims government’s negotiations with cruise lines to finance the new port have compromised the entire procurement process for the controversial project.

Mr. Miller said the announcement late last year that Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corporation have agreed to part-finance the project, threw the whole tender process into doubt.

Mr. Miller, who claims, based on undisclosed sources, that government is still involved in further negotiations with multiple additional cruise lines over financing, said such efforts were outside the parameters of the original request for proposals.

The North Side legislator, also chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said multiple groups had bid on the original RFP, which went out in May, 2017, on the basis that they would be required to provide 100 percent financing as part of a Design, Build, Finance Maintain submission.

He said, “You can’t issue an RFP to a number of bidders which includes 100 percent financing and then separately and privately negotiate financing from two or more cruise lines ….

“If they got commitments for financing they should have altered the RFP for everybody. They should have said we no longer require 100 percent financing. The requirement is now financing minus what is being paid by the two cruise companies.”

He said the issue was further complicated by the fact that both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corporation are part of one of the three bid teams vying for the final project.

If, as Mr. Miller claims, further negotiations are continuing with other cruise lines over financing, that could muddy the waters further in terms of the viability of the proposals by the three bidders.

Mr. Miller said parallel negotiations were effectively taking place over financing, outside of the parameters of the original RFP. He suggested the entire procurement process needs to be repeated.

Responding to those allegations last week, a Ministry of Tourism spokeswoman said the cruise lines financial agreement, announced in November, was included in the invitation to submit final tenders which went out to the three finalists in the bid process in December.

Citing a press release issued at the time, the spokeswoman said the financing for the project would be provided by the two cruise lines in partnership with the preferred bidder. She did not address Mr. Miller’s claims that negotiations are still taking place with further cruise lines. The ministry has not stated exactly how much money Royal Caribbean and Carnival have committed to the project or clarified if and how this impacts their involvement in one of the three bid proposals.

The spokeswoman said the process followed was in keeping with the outline business case for the project, which recommended a public-private partnership involving cruise line participation as the preferred procurement model.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said in a press release, “The Design Build Finance Model means that the project will not require any government loans or bonds. Construction of the piers, including the expansion of the cargo port, will be paid for by the cruise lines using the passenger fees which would otherwise have been used for ferrying passengers to and from the cruise ships.”

Speaking specifically about the project’s timeline, Minister Kirkconnell emphasized that the information and data gathering aspects of the cruise berthing project started in 2013 and the bidding process has been ongoing since May 2017. “The project is now in its sixth year and has reached the stage where three bidders will be submitting their final bids shortly. I look forward to updating the public when those final submissions are received and the successful bidder has been identified,” he said.

By pursuing separate independent negotiations for at least part of the financing, Mr. Miller said government had effectively moved the goal posts part way through a bid process that began by requiring interested parties to submit proposals that included 100 percent financing.

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