Premier Wayne Panton has said the PACT government will not be holding any referendum on a cruise berthing port as the issue, in his view, is now “dead.”
“I don’t think that given the fact that they [the National Unity government] had withdrawn the [cruise port] proposal and we have no proposal to put forward, there was no point to having a [cruise port] referendum at this point. The whole issue is basically void null and void,” Panton told the Cayman Compass over the weekend.
He was at the time responding to Compass questions about the UK Privy Council decision‘s to reject CPR Cayman Shirley Roulstone’s application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling in her case that challenged the National Unity government’s referendum law.
The decision, which was made public last week through a statement from the Attorney General’s office, upheld the Court of Appeal decision and found that there was no need for the Cayman Islands to enact a general referendum law to bring into effect people-initiated referenda.
Panton said that decision was in favour of the previous government’s position and has clarified the issue.
“I think it’s very clear at this point that we can either have a general referendum law, or we can have a referendum law which is specific to each scenario and the latter is exactly what we were dealing with the former CPR petition,” he explained.
The premier reiterated that his government has no plans for a cruise berthing project even though Royal Caribbean has said it has not abandoned the idea.
“Until the issue becomes a live issue again, I think the whole question about having a referendum or people’s initiated referendum on a cruise port initiative is now dead,” Panton said.
Government, he said, is not interested in proceeding with, nor does it have a proposal/plan to consider, building a cruise port facility at some point.
However, he hastened to add, enhancing Cayman’s cargo capacity remains a possibility.
“There is a reality that we may need to look at the ability to expand cargo, but I don’t think that translates at all and people shouldn’t take it as a consideration or reconsideration of a cruise port facility,” he said.
The previously abandoned cruise berthing project that was proposed by the National Unity government, led by former Premier Alden McLaughlin, had contained enhancements to the cargo port.
That feature of the proposed project, headed by the preferred bidder Verdant Isle, included a cargo facility which would have been funded by the cruise lines as part of the overall cruise berthing facility plan.
Panton said he had concerns about that proposal and he had supported CPR Cayman’s position in respect to that.
However he added, “I think it’s an issue that has now fallen away.”
Panton said Cayman’s position in terms of the cruise industry right now is indicative of “a sort of longer-term trajectory that we need to be looking more towards… the lower volume and higher value cruise tourism.”
This, he said, is how tourism should be done.
However for Cayman, he said, stay-over tourism is much more valuable and there has always been a conflict between stay-over tourism and cruise tourism.
“So to the extent that we can reduce the volume of cruise tourism yet achieve more in terms of contribution to our economy and opportunities for our people without creating that conflict with stay-over tourism, then that’s a perfect scenario,” he said.
McLaughlin, commenting on the Privy Council decision, expressed disappointment that the issue was not able to be fully debated.
“Regrettably, the unjustified legal action that CPR initiated to derail the holding of the referendum in December 2019 deprived the people of Cayman their constitutional right to determine whether or not the cruise port should be built. Consequently that issue remains an open question,” McLaughlin told the Compass in a brief statement.