Government will seek to hold the referendum on the cruise and cargo port “as quickly as possible”, Premier Alden McLaughlin has said.

The Cayman Compass understands a poll could be held as early as mid-November. Cabinet will begin drafting a bespoke bill paving the way for the public vote this week.

Campaigners reached a historic milestone last week after the Elections Office confirmed they had met the threshold of obtaining signatures from 25% of registered voters to force a people-initiated referendum.

McLaughlin dismissed concerns that government would seek to “duck the referendum” by arguing the issue was not one of ‘national importance’, a requirement of the Constitution for such referendums.

He also insisted his government would not seek to “pervert the purpose of the referendum by manipulating the question” as some campaigners have suggested they might.

“Those allegations are completely without foundation. Let me lay them to rest now,” he said in a press statement.

“It is central to the Government’s support for Cayman’s new port and cargo facilities that they are necessary in the national interest. There is no question of us seeking to avoid a referendum.”

He said the question would be neutral in its phrasing and would be drawn up in accordance with “best practice principles”.

Now that the petition has been verified, the premier said, he would move quickly to get on with the referendum.

“The country needs certainty and the Government therefore intends to get this referendum process completed as quickly as possible,” he said. “To that end, Cabinet will turn its attention immediately to considering a draft Bill, including a proposed formulation of the referendum question and the date on which the referendum will be held.”

McLaughlin said he believed many people had signed the petition because they had unanswered questions about the port. He indicated that he hoped the recent announcements about the cost of the project and the identity of the preferred bidder, Verdant Isle Port Partners, had helped allay those concerns.

Campaigners have indicated they believe there are still several unanswered questions. They wrote to the Governor Martyn Roper and Premier McLaughlin last week calling for the release of more information including an updated environmental impact assessment and the full details of the new design, before the poll.

In his statement, McLaughlin criticised some of the campaigners.

He said, “Sadly there is also a small group of people who are simply opposed to the government’s plans at any price and who appear willing to throw out any kind of misstatement or half-truth to further their objectives.

“At each stage in this process, those opponents have been quick to allege impropriety on the part of Government Ministers. At each stage they have been wrong.”

He highlighted implications that the port project was designed for the benefits of ministers’ business interests, that government had not followed proper procurement procedures and that government would interfere with the verification process or intimidate civil servants during the petition process as among a list of allegations that he said had been put out by some anti-port campaigners and had been shown to be false.

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