Government has set 19 Dec. as the date for the people-initiated referendum on the controversial cruise pier project.
A Referendum Bill, gazetted Thursday night, paves the way for the historic vote to take place this year – just six days before Christmas.
The bill also sets the question for the referendum.
It will be, “Should the Cayman Islands continue to move forward with building the cruise berthing and enhanced cargo port facility?”
Voters will have the chance to respond with a simple yes or no.
Referendum day, which will fall on a Thursday, has been declared a public holiday to allow people to vote, though bars and restaurants will remain open to avoid disruption during the festive season.
The bill indicates that the referendum result will be binding on the government “if more than fifty per cent of persons registered as electors” vote in favour or against.
That means at least 10,609 of the 21,217 registered on the Oct.1 electoral roll must turn out and vote against the port to stop the project from proceeding.
A simple majority of those who show up at the polls will not be enough for the result to be binding.
Government said in a press statement accompanying the release of the bill that it had taken legal advice both from Attorney General Samuel Bulgin and an external firm, to help formulate the question.
The statement said it was designed to be clear and simple and reflect the intentions of the petition that triggered the vote.
Now that the bill has been published, there is a mandatory 21 day notice period before it is debated in the Legislative Assembly and passed into law. After that the writs of referendum will be issued, sparking a six-week process to organise the poll and facilitate postal and mobile voting.
Government was required under the Constitution to organise the referendum after campaign group Cruise Port Referendum Cayman collected signatures from more than 25% of the electorate – more than 5,000 people – calling for the public to decide whether the project should proceed.
Verdant Isle Port Partners, a consortium of cruise lines and construction firms, has been lined up as the preferred bidder on the $200 million development after a lengthy procurement process.
The premier’s press release indicates that the date was dictated by the legal and logistic timelines required before the bill could be debated and passed, and the referendum held.
It adds that Supervisor of Elections Wesley Howell has confirmed that his office will be “operationally and logistically” ready for referendum day on 19 Dec.
The statement adds, “With the Gazettal of the Referendum Bill and the setting of the date for the referendum the Government looks forward to settling this issue and determining whether the country supports continuing to move forward with building the cruise berthing and enhanced cargo port facility.”
There was no immediate reaction from CPR Cayman, but the group had been advocating for the vote to be held next year. It has also called for the release of more information to the public, including the full designs, updated environmental impact assessment and more details of the financial formula, before the referendum is held.
The bill allows for all parties to appoint election observers and establishes that the referendum should follow similar format to a general election, with people voting at polling stations within their electoral district.
The December referendum date means that the 207 people who registered by 1 Oct to join the next updated voters list in January will not be able to vote.