Dart deal should be revealed
(CNS): The public has a right to see the details of the deal between government and the Dart Group before it is signed, the independent member for North Side has stated. With the government expected to ink the main agreement with the country’s largest investor, the Dart Group, before the end of this month, Ezzard Miller says the deal should not be secret and has called for it to be published in the public domain. He has also called for any side letters that may have been signed with the UK that clear the agreement from needing to meet the requirements of the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility (FFR) which the premier signed with the FCO last year.
“If government has a side letter permitting this agreement, then we need to see that as well as the deal,” the North Side member said, adding that he did not believe the preliminary deal regarding the Esterly Tibbetts Highway swap meets the FFR. “The government negotiated a side deal for its strategic policy statement which had been drawn up before the premier was forced to sign the FFR, so is there one for this deal? And if so, the public should know as this deal cannot meet the requirements of that framework.”
He also questioned why the public had not seen the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers analysing the proposed project and whether or not if provides value for money for the Caymanian people and the public purse. The report was completed in April and Miller said he believed that it had raised concerns, which is why the negotiations have continued on for longer than government wanted. “But no one outside government’s inner circle and Dart has seen it,” he added.
Miller pointed out that the main agreement is a complex deal which is going to have far reaching implications for everyone in Cayman. The ForCayman Investment Alliance includes various land swaps between the crown and Dart, the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension and related roads, the redevelopment of public beach, a new five-star resort on West Bay Road, the closure of a strip of that road, duty and tax concessions, cash donations to government and the moving of the dump to Bodden Town.
The land swaps plus the road developments and closure will lead to a significant increase in the value of the land that Dart will own. In addition, the parameters of the deal may have changed significantly since its announcement in the spring of last year and Miller said that before the government signs, the entire proposal should be made public.
The independent member was concerned that politicians and not the government’s technical staff have been too closely involved in this worrying deal.
“We have deals being negotiated by the wrong people,” Miller said. “We are dealing with public land and it should be the technocrats not the politicians that work out the details. Why are the Cabinet ministers all involved in these talks? How can ministers objectively negotiate such a deal? There are no checks and balances here.”
This is a point which has been raised by the auditor general in other reports he has conducted that involve government procurement. Alastair Swarbrick had pointed to concerns over the interference of politicians in technical issues and negotiations on contracts, which he has said leaves the system open to risk of abuse.
Miller said that if government intends to dispose of public assets there should be complete transparency so the people know what they are giving up and what, if anything, they are gaining.
Despite the letter from the Anti-Corruption Commission indicating that there was no wrongdoing regarding the $5 million donation that was given to government by Dart in the wake of the preliminary deal regarding the West Bay Road projects, signed last December, Miller pointed out that the payment had still not been properly explained. “What exactly is it for, what did Dart purchase with it and where is the invoice?” the MLA asked, as he has done previously.
Miller said there were a significant number of issues and controversies surrounding the deal and it now needed to come into the open. The public should get to see every detail of the final proposal before government commits the country to something that could have very far reaching repercussions, the independent member stated.
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