Chinese not port problem
(CNS): The nationality of the Beijing based developer that is currently in negotiations with the UDP government to develop the George Town cruise berthing facilities is not the problem, the Cayman Islands governor has said. Governor Duncan Taylor told CNS that the UK cannot offer its support to the project as it stands because of the failure of government to follow the correct process and establish a proper business plan with parameters for the development. The governor told CNS that the UK understands the need for cruise facilities and does not object to China Harbour Engineering Company itself but it will not sanction the project under the current circumstances.
Following up on comments made by the UK’s overseas territories minister, Henry Bellingham, during his recent visit to the Cayman Islands about the need for the project to follow international procurement practices, the governor said that the project could not be shaped, designed, financed and built by the developer without a proper tendering process. The Cayman government had to set out a clear case for what was needed and then find a developer to fulfil the government’s requirements.
The premier has repeatedly stated, however, that he wishes to go ahead with the CHEC proposal as he says the firm is offering the best deal Cayman could hope to get. The premier picked CHEC after the company allegedly approached the government, since the firm did not respond to the original expressions of interest assessed by the Port Authority in the early days of the UDP administration.
McKeeva Bush has favoured CHEC, he says, because the deal includes a pier for West Bay, an upgrade of the jetty at Spotts and possibly a pier in Cayman Brac, all of which will be financed by the Chinese firm.
However, the governor has pointed to the fact that the firm would be recouping its investment from port passenger tax, which is still public revenue. Taylor said that without a clear plan or justified business case for the cruise berthing project and allowing the developer to specify what it would do, costs were in danger of spiralling out of control.
In the face of comments made by the premier and others that it was the involvement of a Chinese company which was behind the UK’s objections to the George Town port project, the governor told CNS that this was simply not true.
“Neither the FCO nor I have said anything about dealing with the Chinese," he said. “It’s about process and procurement.”
The governor made it clear that the UK would not sanction the port project until a proper business case is put together that sets limits on the development and prevents add-ons, especially as public money is at stake. He said that if the project was tendered in accordance with international procurement procedures, it would be perfectly possible for the Chinese to win or even be defined as the preferred bidder but he pointed out that it must be government and not the developer that sets out the plan for the project. Taylor noted that already during the negotiating process the plans had changed and it was not usual for the supplier to decide what would be built.
“It has already escalated to a $300 million project from a starting point of around $175 million, which is what happens when there is no business plan in place,” he added.
The governor said that the UK minister has already set out what he means by international procurement standards to the premier and how to get the project back on track. Taylor added that there were still several hurdles to overcome before the project would get UK backing.
Despite the challenges he now faced with the deterioration in the relationship between the premier and himself, Taylor said that such tensions were not unusual between the office of the governor and the elected officials. The governor said that his focus over the next two years would be on improving the public sector and helping to develop a better civil service for the Cayman Islands and ensuring good governance.
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