No guarantees on Port

| 16/09/2008

(CNS): The investor Atlantic Star, with which the government has signed an MOU to negotiate the redevelopment and separation of the country’s cargo and cruise facilities at the George Town Port, has been given no guarantees on the land or the outcome of the negotiations. And according to the Minister for Tourism, the proposed port development is also dependent on the results of the Environmental Assessment Study (EAS).

Answering questions in the Legislative Assembly (LA) posed by the Leader of the Opposition, McKeeva Bush, and the second elected member for West Bay, Rolston Anglin, the Minister for Tourism, Charles Clifford, said that as the project was still at the negotiating stage and he had no idea of the costs involved, but that the developer had an expectation of return on any investment.

“No guarantee has been given to the developer. Under the terms of the MOU we will negotiate the financial modelling,” said Clifford. “During this stage we are looking at the financing and we will be seeking to ensure government is protected and the investor receives some return.”

Bush pushed the Minister on the details of the deal and asked what value had been placed on the land that the government intends to use for the project. “This is not ya-ya land, it is real; what is the value?” he asked.

The minister did not offer a sum but said the value would be taken into consideration and would be part of the negotiations. He said government owns the existing port land and the investor the land to the north, where the proposed cargo facilities will be. He said it was essentially a case of government and investor each owning half of the land.

Bush persisted in trying to get the Minister to offer some estimate of land values or the cost of the development but Clifford refused. “The Leader of the Opposition is expecting me to say how much and I can’t. There are protocols that require me to divulge the details at the appropriate time,” he added.

Bush noted that it was a common occurrence that the House was not informed about what was happening until after it happened. The Minister said the opposition’s questions were premature and that the entire development would be subject to extensive public consultation and the results of a detailed environmental impact study.

He said it was impossible, at this stage, to say where the negotiations are going to end up. “From the investor’s point of view he is only interested in a return on that investment but as far as operational control is concerned government is keen to ensure we remain in control.”

Anglin queried the financial arrangements using the term "funny business", a phrase he said that the PPM had used when it first came to office to describe non-traditional financing of government projects. “Early on in this administration there was much talk about traditional financing and not using ‘funny business’  — so what has changed? This is obviously a public-private partnership,” asked Anglin.

“I don’t know what he means by funny business,” said the Minister, adding that the government faced a number of redevelopment and capital projects and it could not finance them all. “This is not funny business. Public-private partnerships are common in many countries. We have decided to go this route, and the project is going to be public and not happen behind closed doors.”

The Minister also said the EiS would be a key part of the project, and that the investor would be offering a choice of three companies to undergo the assessment from which the Department of Environment would select the best company for the job. He said if for any reason the DoE were unhappy with the names put forward, the investor would have to come up with another one.

The Minister said that there were two teams involved in the negotiating process — one from government, consisting of Wayne Panton, Chair of the Port Authority, Paul Hurlston, Director, and an outside financial expert, and the Atlantic Star team — and they had met about 3 or 4 times. He added however, that there would be parallel talks with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) which, the Minister said, was interested at the very least in being involved and investing in the design.

The Leader of the Opposition also questioned the Minister on alternative locations and raised the issue that no thorough study had been done to rule out the eastern end of the island as a better site. The Minister said preliminary enquiries conducted by the Port Authority before he came to office had suggested taking the port facilities east was not a viable option.

“If he thinks digging a hole in East End is better than George Town he needs to say what it is,” said the Minister to Bush, who replied, “The Minister digs holes whenever he opens his mouth,”but that he needed to tellthe house why he was so sure the east was a bad choice when no proper study had been conducted.

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  1. Knal N. Domp says:

    It is vitally important that the Port Expansion Programme be elevated from the gutter squabbling of height-challenged and girth-endowed politicians, to the level of intelligent public scrutiny, debate and consideration. For this to occur, a reasonable assessment of the Half Moon Bay proposal (as espoused by McKeewa) be made by a competent review agency and compared with a similar assessment of the North Church Street proposal (as espoused by Chuckie and his Arab handler Mr At El Antiq-Schtar). These assessments should be holistic and must predict the wider consequences, benefits and threats of each proposal, as well as total cost estimates and mitigations (such as the sale of excavated material generated at Half Moon Bay, for instance).

    Only then can the merits and de-merits of each proposal be intelligently assessed. Anything less at this stage, is simply narrow posturing. The real winner? At El Antiq-Schtar- who will join Dart and Ryan to form the true powerbase of these Islands…

    • Anonymous says:

      this new generation of caymanians have more education than their forefathers but far less common sense it seems.