The planned cruise berthing facility is in jeopardy after the Grand Court quashed the Referendum Law in February, Premier Alden McLaughlin admitted on Friday.
He said the project was “seriously at risk” and “almost certainly lost”, given that the verdict will inevitably lead to lengthy delays.
In February, judge Tim Owen declared the Referendum Law incompatible with the Constitution. This means legislators will have to pass a new referendum law before a vote on the port project can go ahead. Government has announced it will appeal the decision.
Speaking at the Royal Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook conference, McLaughlin added that the legal struggles over a referendum deciding the fate of the planned cruise port comes in addition to other economic issues Cayman is grappling with, including the threat of a wider economic downturn, coronavirus and the EU blacklist.
He said government had spent more than $9 million over seven years on the proposed port project, which he said was important to cruise tourism and many local jobs and businesses.
To mitigate the impact of a global economic slump, he said, government needed to ensure Cayman’s long-term competitiveness and “that the things that are possible to be done right here in Cayman do actually get done”.
In light of a “likely recession”, the premier said he was “still incredulous” that Cayman had put itself into a position where the project may not happen because of the resulting delays.
He said he was not concerned about the cruise lines, which would be able to cope, but about the thousands of Caymanians and small businesses that depend on cruise tourism.
“Without a cruise berthing pier, I am afraid that we must again expect the inevitable decline in cruise visitor numbers over the next few years.”
He added, “Without the project, we will be exposing our economy – and our people – to more risk. And, in my view, totally unnecessary risk.”
The premier said that in a period of “almost certain economic slowdown”, the case for the project was “even more clear and obvious”.
The cargo element of the project was equally important, he noted, predicting that Cayman would struggle to import the quantity of goods it needs as the economy develops and the population grows.
“Without the cruise berthing project, any future cargo port improvements will have to be funded by the Port Authority and the costs passed on, no doubt, ultimately to consumers,” he said.
The premier added the firm commitment by several cruise lines would have delivered both the cruise and the cargo element of the port development at no financial risk to the Caymanian people, with the cruise passenger head tax used to pay for the construction.