Archive for June 20th, 2010

‘Port is excuse for quarry’

| 20/06/2010 | 42 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Headline News(CNS): The motive behind government plans to develop a cargo port in East End has been queried by local MLAs who say the real goal is to quarry aggregate from the land where a lake would be developed as part of the facility. On Friday Ezzard Miller, the independent representative for North Side, and the PPM representative for East End, Arden McLean, both voiced their strong opposition to the cargo port proposal, which government has cited as one of the public/private partnerships that will form part of its economic recovery plan. The MLAs said the developer who owns the land in the area and who has proposed the initiative is planning to build the cargo port in order to get at the fill, which is worth millions of dollars.

During his contribution to the budget debate Miller said he was very worried about the proposed East End cargo port and the talk of excavating a 50-60 foot deep lake in the middle of the island. He said that the people he had spoken with about the project who were knowledgeable about the commercial shipping industry said it was very unlikely the developer could recoup his investment as there was not enough business in the region to support it. However, it appeared that the fill that would be taken to create the lake would be extremely valuable.  
Miller said he believed the excavation of the lake would produce some 14-15 million cubic yards of fill  — a quantity that Cayman could never utilize. “If this is being done to send the fill somewhere else I have serious objections,” Miller told the Legislative Assembly, warning that the creation of the lake could have serious consequences for his constituents during storms, since they would be down hill from it. “I remain to be convinced this is a good thing,” Miller stated.
When McLean stood to make his comments, the East End MLA and former PPM minister for Public Works also said he had concerns about the proposal. He said if the country moved its cargo operations from town to the eastern district it would require substantially more investment in roads, including four lane highways to accommodate the container trucks.
But he too also had serious concerns about what the developer really wanted to do on this land in McLean’s constituency.
“They want to build a quarry not a dock!” he declared angrily, adding that as long as he had breath in his body he would not let it happen. “We must stop being so gullible,” McLean added as he inferred that too many developers had taken advantage of Caymanians in the past and he said he would not allow the same thing to happen in East End while he still occupied the seat in parliament for the district.
“While I have this little piece of real estate here, no premier and no Joe Imparato is going to walk all over me,” he said, referring to the land owner who is proposing to put the cargo dock on property he owns in McLean’s district. “This has to stop,” added McLean.
He suggested that the fill would be worth millions of dollars to the land owner, and that it would be sold offshore and Cayman would receive nothing for the literal loss of its land.
The issue of wealthy developers taking advantage of Cayman was also raised by Miller during his address. He said he had concerns about the wide impact on the country’s future. “We need to control people with massive wealth coming and buying up all the land and developing. What are we leaving our children?” Miller asked.
The North Side representative also asked where the money for the fill that would be generated from dredging a channel in the North Sound was mentioned in government’s revenue forecasts as he could not see it in the budget documents.
Miller told the House that, while he supported the idea of a channel, it should be shallower and not built for mega yachts or for the Ritz Carlton and Camana Bay but to assist the marina built at Barcadere by the Scotts, who are Caymanians.
He said government may also want to think twice about who it worked with on the development of the cruise piers in George Town, as he had recently learned a number of things about the developer with which it had signed an MOU. Miller questioned how he had come to be involved when the criteria on the original advertisement government had put out to find a partner for the facility asked for like experience. “It asked for people who had undertaken similar projects and I can’t find any such experience by the company that signed the MOU. So why was it not eliminated right away?” Miller asked the House.
He revealed other concerns about the developer when he said he had received a call from an overseas journalist recently to ask what he knew about this particular developer and vulture funds. Miller said he had known nothing at the time so went looking and learned what these funds were. He said they were so bad that the UK had outlawed them. Miller told the House they involved buying third world national debts and then forcing the governments in question to pay up through court orders.
Miller said he found articles on the web indicating that the individual developer was living in Cayman under armed guard and asked the government how, if it was indeed true, anyone in Cayman could legally have armed private guards. The North Side representatives said he advised members of the Legislative Assembly and the public to ‘Google’ the person in question and ask themselves if this was who they wanted their government to do business with.

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Miller offers alternatives

| 20/06/2010 | 11 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Headline News(CNS): Echoing the leader of the opposition’s objections to a fuel duty increase, the independent member of the Legislative Assembly for North Side said there were other options government could pursue to raise money and eliminate more spending in this year’s budget. Ezzard Miller told the House on Friday during his contribution to the budget debate that government should change the customs tariffs, increase vehicle and driving license fees and cut more in operational expenses. He said he was almost prepared to support the fuel increase, but as Cayman Brac was exempt when his constituents had to travel so far to work meant he could not support such an inflationary increase. (Photo by Dennie Warren Jr)

In a speech that touched on a wide variety of issues, from MLAs claiming their pensions while still serving as members of the House to foreign nationals running tour operations in his constituency without proper licenses, Miller said he did not think the government had made any real cuts in the budget. The MLA for North Side also said government was expecting revenue to increase after it had predicted a decline in GDP, which did not make sense.
After close examination of the budget, he said it appeared operating expenses had gone up by $5 million, and civil service costshad not gone down by the $7 million as expected as a result of the 3.2% cut but appeared to have increased. Government had also predicted to earn $19 million more in revenue, which he told his parliamentary colleagues was “rather ambitious” as demand for goods was expected to be negative, according to other indicators.
Miller also raised questions about the medical director of health, the negative interviewing of Caymanians, and the lack of police in his constituency despite constantly asking for support. He said crime was a serious problem but Cayman had good laws that just needed to be enforced. Miller suggested clamping down on local real estate scams where people were leaving out sellers’ details in paperwork to avoid paying stamp duty on property transfers. Criticising the real estate sector in general, he said it was time to introduce a local realtor’s qualification at UCCI and a moratorium on work permits in the business to create opportunities for Caymanians.
Among the variety of topics he touched on, he voiced his concern that despite reassurances from government to him after tabling a motion, there was nothing in the budget documents to say the Public Management and Finance Law was being reviewed during this session of the LA. The North Side representative noted that as government was compliant with only two of the principles of responsible financial management it was clear the law had to be changed.
Offering alternatives to the fuel duty increase, Miller said that government could raise most of the $10 million expected to be generated by the 25 cents on fuel by increasing the various categories of vehicle licensing, which was a one off payment and easier for people to cope with. He also said there was room for an increase in the driving license fee as it had been several years since it was changed.
However, Miller’s focus was on the custom’s tariffs, as he said everyone would benefit from a flat rate of around 15% rather than so many different rates and so many indiscriminate things being duty free. He said there was no longer any justification for it and a flat rate would cut collection costs for government and preparation time for businesses. He pointed out that it could take several hours to work out the duty rates they needed to be paid on a forty-foot container of mixed goods.
Talking about “good governance”, Miller said it had been used to describe “a multitude of sins” but he said it was time for people to work together, especially in the Legislative Assembly where, he said, the rise of adversarial politics had been detrimental. “The recent history of adversarial politics needs to stop we all need to be able to contribute,” Miller observed. “Every single member of this House has something to offer in running the country; we need to be involved.”
As he wound up his diverse contribution, he warned that he would also be presenting some amendments to the budget during the Finance Committee hearings, which he hoped the government would consider. 

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