Government will proceed with plans for a new cruise and cargo port in George Town harbour despite claims from campaigners that they have collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the project.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said government’s legal advice was that it “should not and need not” have any regard to the petition until it has been verified by the Elections Office and reaches Cabinet.
Even if that happens, the premier made no guarantees that a referendum would take place. He said his Cabinet would take the “appropriate and advised” course of action recommended by its legal team once the verified petition is submitted.
The Cruise Port Referendum Campaign announced last month that it had reached the 5,289 signatures, representing 25% of the electorate, required to trigger a people-initiated referendum on the port. The group said in a press statement Wednesday that representatives would meet with the Governor Friday before announcing the time and date that the petition will be submitted to the Elections Office.
McLaughlin, speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, said the six-year planning and procurement process for the dock was reaching its endgame. He said the final bids had been received and a preferred bidder will be selected in the coming months.
At that point, the premier said, government would be able to share details on the cost, funding model and final design of the piers, which will be designed to accommodate larger cruise and cargo ships.
Questioned by Opposition Leader Arden McLean on how this process would be handled now that the referendum campaigners had supposedly reached their target, McLaughlin said, “The key word in that question is ‘supposedly.’ That summarises where that process is. Ten months after the petition was launched, there is still not even a list yet submitted to the Elections Office for verification.”
Historian and former Cabinet Minister Roy Bodden last week called for negotiations over the port to be put on pause until the verification process is complete.
But McLaughlin said government would not go down that road. Until a properly verified petition is submitted to Cabinet, he said, government need not respond.
“The legal advice is very clear,” the premier said. “The government should not and need not have any regard to what is now approaching a year-long process of signature collections. It has not risen, the petition, above that standard yet.”
Campaigners have expressed fears that government will seek to avoid a referendum by claiming the issue of the dock does not meet the definition of ‘national importance’ required by the Constitution before people-initiated referenda can be held.
Responding to further questions from McLean, the premier said government was not yet taking a position on whether the issue of the dock was one of ‘national importance.’
“The government is taking the appropriate legal advice,” he said, “and should a properly verified petition with the required number of signatures be presented, that issue will be considered properly and a position taken. I can say no more at this stage.”
Outlining the next steps in the project, McLaughlin said the final bids were being evaluated and ranked by a team from the Major Projects Office, Port Authority of the Cayman Islands, the Ministry of Tourism and financial and technical consultants. A report will be submitted to the Public Procurement Committee, through the Central Tenders Committee, which will make a final recommendation to Cabinet.
McLaughlin said, “It has been a very long haul over many years, over three administrations and millions of dollars spent on expert reports, advice and time, to get to this point, but it is good for the Cayman Islands that we are here. At every point along the way, we have advised the public where we are.
“I and the deputy premier [Moses Kirkconnell] have repeatedly reminded the public that government needed to get to this final stage in the process in order to have final designs in hand, and having reached this point, I look forward to publicly unveiling the plans, including costs, as soon as the successful bidder has been identified.”
CPR Cayman said in an unrelated statement that it will submit its petition next week.
“Many people have expressed concerns about the verification process and we will seek greater clarification on all verification options that the Elections Office will provide for registered voters and all safeguards they will employ to ensure they are able to contact all persons who signed the petition,” it said.