Premier Alden McLaughlin says he is confident government will prevail in the referendum over the $200 million cruise and cargo port project.
He defended the decision to hold the vote just six days before Christmas, on 19 Dec., saying it was the earliest practical date available and the country had to get on with it.
He said holding the poll would cost $1.5 million but acknowledged it was the “proper exercise of people’s constitutional rights”.
The premier said he does not believe more than 50% of the electorate will turn out to vote ‘no’ to the port – the threshold required to stop the project.
He said government had invested a lot of political and financial capital – more than $4 million to date – in the six-year planning phase of the project. And he accepted that if there were a strong turn-out and a definitive ‘no’ vote that halted the development, it would be a significant political blow to his administration.
“I would certainly have to consider my position as premier and decide whether or not I should continue, but it is early days,” he said in an interview with the Cayman Compass on Friday.
“It would be a small miracle, I think, if they were able to get 50% plus one,” he said.
McLaughlin, speaking after the publication of the bill setting the date and question for the vote, said there was no flexibility on the threshold for people-initiated referendums. More than 50% of the electorate must vote ‘no’ to the piers for the outcome to be binding on the government. A simple majority on the day will not be enough.
He insisted that government would proceed with the project, even if more people who turn out on the day vote against the port than vote for it.
If the critical number of 10,609 ‘no’ votes is not reached, the project will go ahead.
Anyone who stays home and does not vote will effectively be counted in the ‘yes’ column.
“We would proceed with the project because essentially people not turning out to vote is a clear indication they are not opposed to the project,” he said.
He said the Constitution deliberately set the bar high for this type of referendum because it involved a group of citizens seeking to direct the policy of a democratically elected government.
He denied there was not enough information in the public domain for people to make an informed decision, saying the cost, location and concept designs had all been revealed.
He acknowledged government had not always been forthcoming with details on the project but blamed this on the rules of the tendering process and the fact that this was a design, build, finance and maintain project, with many of the key details determined through the bid process.
He denied that the 19 Dec. date was designed to ensure low turnout, saying anyone who was going to be away for the holidays would still be able to vote. He said the schools would be just finishing their term and insisted it would have been far more disruptive to businesses and schools to hold the vote in January.
He added that the country needed closure on an issue that had “dragged out” for more than a year.
“We have to get on with the business of government. If the project is to be halted, we need to know now before more money is spent. We have spent more than $4 million to this point. If the project is to go ahead, we need to get on with it.”
He insisted that no contract had been signed or would be signed until after the poll.