October 25, 2020

WE NEED ACTION: Bush says act now or GT will die

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Crusie ship off Seven Mile Beach

Without immediate action on port development, Premier McKeeva Bush said yesterday, both George Town and Cayman’s tourism industry will die.

Equally, without quick action on a formal agreement with Dart Realty, he said, people will not find work, mortgages and other payments may lapse and “this country will die on the streets”.

Both agreements, after prolonged negotiations, are due sometime this month, but, unable to name a date for signing with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to develop cruise-ship docks in George Town, Mr Bush indicated he was increasingly impatient and under pressure to finish the contract.

“It is something we have to finalise,” he said. “There is no question on the need for this. I have to get this country going.

Without it, this town is going to die. I cannot have any more setbacks,” he told iNews yesterday.

He confirmed that, among the details of the still-unsigned agreement, CHEC would operate the port for 49 years, and share with government the passenger-landing fees paid by the cruise.

He added he was “working on a way where Caymanians can invest and own a part of this”, but did not elaborate.

“I am not negotiating the financial model,” he said. “We have KPMG advising us. They are meeting with the Port Authority and CHEC to discuss this. We have a competent Port Authority board.”

Moving to establish his legal position, however, and in the wake of recent Auditor General charges that he had previously skirted financial regulations, Mr Bush said, “We can do this without tendering. As Minister of Finance, the Public Management and Finance Law gives us the ability to choose the preferred tenderer.”

Repeated calls to KPMG went unanswered, but the most likely way Caymanians will participate in the port investment is to purchase leases from the builders, launching businesses or renting to others.

The 49-year operating agreement and revenue sharing, Mr Bush said, was because government had no money to pay for the development. “It is up to as much as 49 years, and this is not going to be built by government because we don’t have any money. How else are we gong to pay for it?” he asked. “The important thing is that China does not need any government guarantees.

“I have letters from the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism and from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association [FCCA],” Mr Bush confided, describing the urgency of the situation.

“We cannot afford any more delay,” he told us, detailing his October visit to the FCCA’s annual cruse conference.

“I was pulled over the coals about this. They told me they have invested millions in their own facilities – in the Bahamas and in [Haiti’s] Labadie – and still there is nothing in Cayman. Already, businesses in town have gone under because of it. I am passing on those letters to both the governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

McKeeva Bush

He said he was “too busy” to accompany the Chamber of Commerceled, nine-member delegation to Jamaica on Wednesday and Thursday, touring China Harbour’s $400 million Jamaica Infrastructure Development Programme and $65 million Jamaica Airport Highway Project.

He pointed out that the company, while waiting for Cayman to move, had inked agreements with four other countries in the region.

The latest, announced on Friday, is a $47 million airport-development programme with Antigua.

He was also unable to say when the $1.2 billion contract with Dart Realty would be completed, saying only “if I don’t get both of these done,” the economy would suffer. The agreement is for broad infrastructure and community development, and includes roads, hotels, parks, schools and a new Bodden Town refuse station to replace the George Town landfill.

“There is still some evaluation to do,” on the Dart-government ForCayman Investment Alliance. “It is also this month. We must get the best deal for the country, and both will have to go to Cabinet for approval.”

Mr Bush returned only yesterday from a weeklong trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Mr Bush met investors, legal firms and other financial-services companies.

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