A new grassroots group aims to trigger a people-initiated referendum on the proposed cruise berthing facility project.
This intensified effort comes amid criticism from some corners that government is not being fully transparent on the project’s cost and other important details.
Calls for a referendum on what would be the largest and most expensive capital works project in the country’s history are reaching a crescendo. This month, opposition leader Ezzard Miller announced plans to bring a referendum motion to the LA chamber.
Additionally, a new social media group called Cruise Port Referendum Cayman has emerged, and is actively collecting signatures towards the goal of a people initiated referendum.
Meanwhile, former chamber president and outspoken businessman Johann Moxam is taking issue with what he called a lack of transparency surrounding the project.
“This right now, is the biggest issue facing the country, and it impacts everybody,” said Mr. Moxam.
He told Cayman 27 government’s push to build a cruise berthing facility could impact the country’s financial prospects for decades.
“This is not a small amount of money that we are looking at, we are looking at figures anywhere between 200 and 400 million dollars, that’s significant,” said Mr. Moxam.
But that’s just a fraction of the potential costs, he said.
Under the design/build/finance/maintain model now being negotiated, the Tourism Ministry said there will be no new borrowing or government guarantees, and the cruise and cargo facility will be returned to the people in a quarter century.
“If the Cayman Islands government is collecting $17 per head times $1.9 million cruise passengers per year, which is the current numbers that we have, that equals $32.3 million in revenue,” said Mr. Moxam.
Over a 25-year term, that could add up to more than $800 million in gross revenue.
“Let’s say the financiers get 50% of that, that is a staggering amount of money for a project that they cannot truly justify because they are unwilling, or it would appear unable, to be truly transparent,” said Mr. Moxam.
In the months and years since a June 2015 meeting where results of the port environmental impact assessment were revealed, Mr. Moxam said the once-transparent process has become rather opaque.
“They are choosing select individuals and groups that are closely aligned and in favor of the project to share the information. Why are they unable, unwilling, to provide the same information via multiple forums to the general public,” pondered Mr. Moxam.
As the general public and the media remain largely in the dark over many of the details of the project, he said there must be a point where a project of this size and scope becomes untenable.
“You have to factor in the environmental concerns, the financial concerns, and the socio-economic issues,” said Mr. Moxam. “There must be a number at some point where somebody in the elected government goes, this is too big a number and too heavy a price.”
Government has long maintained that the question is not whether the country can afford to build the piers, but whether it can afford not to.
Regarding transparency, the Tourism Ministry told Cayman 27 in addition to making 10 reports and studies publicly available via its website, it held three public meetings and a press conference on the project between 2013 and 2015. The ministry said it also held six public meetings this February and March to discuss the draft National Tourism Plan and other tourism matters like the cruise berthing facility.