Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo has urged government to consider allowing newly registered voters on the January electors roll to have their say on the port referendum.
“I have 11 people in Newlands who are on that list, who won’t be able to vote and who I am certain went out and registered with that intention,” Suckoo said during his contribution to the debate on the Referendum Bill in the Legislative Assembly on Monday evening.
A total of 220 voters have been added to the official voters register; however, they will only become eligible to vote after 1 Jan. Only voters who registered before 1 July and who are on the official electoral roll released on 1 Oct. can vote in the upcoming referendum on the government’s proposed $200 million cruise berthing project.
The Newlands MLA said he believed that there were instances in the past where updates were done to the voters list in the run-up to elections. He said he wanted this to be considered for the referendum.
“As a representative of the people, I do not think we should take any other position than to see what we can do to help those people. There is no guarantee how they will vote,” he said.
Suckoo said while he agreed with Premier Alden McLaughlin that at some point a line must be drawn with setting a cut-off point for registering electors, he believed consideration must be given to the voters who missed the deadline.
He also spoke of his opposition to the sale of alcohol being allowed on Referendum Day. “I think, as much as possible, we should still try to restrict [alcohol]; at least then, we can have a clear conscience we did our part, that people were not encouraged to vote under the influence, or no one felt that they used alcohol to keep people away from the polls or to sway people’s position one way or another,” Suckoo said.
Miller unhappy with port project
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said the current plans for the cruise berthing piers cannot work, based on the advice he has received from local mariners.
In his contribution to the debate, Miller suggested that the piers were too close together and could lead to challenges should there be any problems when ships are in dock. “There is no room to offer assistance with tugs [when] another cruise ship is tied up,” he said.
He added that even though the government says there will be no dredging in Hog Sty Bay, the proximity of the cruise ships will send sand and silt into the harbour.
“You know what colour George Town water will be? The water won’t be clear. The water is going to be white,” he said.
He also flagged concerns that Seven Mile Beach will be impacted by the project, based on flow of currents and tides, a point government has rejected.
“I do not have the evidence to prove that Seven Mile Beach is going to be damaged definitely but, conversely, the government does not have the evidence it will not be damaged,” Miller said.
He argued that the $200 million would be better spent in building an above-ground monorail to deal with congestion in the eastern districts as there is no justification, in his view, for the port project.
Savannah MLA Anthony Eden and George Town South MLA Barbara Conolly also weighed in on the project during the debate which continued until 10pm on Monday, and then resumed on Tuesday morning.
Eden, an Opposition member, warned against over-tourism, arguing that in the push to get more cruise passengers, Cayman is risking the tourism experience for its stayover visitors. “We just want to be careful that we do not cause problems with the people who come here and spend the money to rest and relax and get away from the concrete jungle,” he said.
Conolly, a government councillor in the education ministry, made her case for the cruise berthing and cargo project, saying that she was concerned by the “misinformation” being peddled by opponents. She said government had a duty to do everything in its power to protect the economy and suggested that if the project is stymied, there will be consequences.
“We are risking not only a slowdown in economic growth, but we are risking a recession,” she said.
Harris, Wight pledge ‘yes’ votes in referendum
Day two of the debate began on Tuesday with George Town West MLA David Wight and Prospect MLA Austin Harris both calling on constituents to vote yes for the port project.
Using differing platforms for their position, both MLAs pledged their votes to help move the project forward.
Wight described the project is a “win win”.
He said, “When the older ships are decommissioned, we will lose our cruise industry. The business case estimated that arrivals will be reduced by half, or basically one million passengers a year.”
He called on legislators to recall when cruise arrivals were that low and the impact it had on the cruise industry, which Wight said was dominated by Caymanians.
“People were genuinely suffering. It is a terrible feeling to not be able to provide for your family. To those who oppose this project, I ask where are we going to find more than 1,500 jobs to replace those that will be lost? What are we going to do with all those people, our people?” Wight said.
In his contribution, Harris addressed his change of heart on the project, saying his original concerns were no longer relevant, and suggesting that the cruise berthing and port facility he debated against in the past is not the same project today.
He also pointed to the 29% of Prospect residents who signed the petition launched by Cruise Port Referendum Cayman as evidence that the majority of his constituents either support the project or do not think it is as high a priority as education, health or traffic congestion.
“I know from speaking to my constituents, the number one national issue is traffic,” Harris said.
He reminded legislators that the project goes beyond cruise passengers, it is about revenue to support essential services.
“I believe the cruise berthing and cargo facility has the ability to replace welfare with opportunity,” Harris said, pointing out that by the end of the year, the Ministry of Community Affairs will spend $25.5 million on core needs assessment at the Needs Assessment Unit and the Department of Children and Family Services.
The debate continued into the afternoon session on Tuesday with contributions from Opposition MLAs and other government members.