A call to fall in line with the UK
Amid this past week’s brouhaha surrounding the revelations that the country’s first premier is under three criminal investigations, the visit of Mr Henry Bellingham, the UK’s Minister for the Overseas Territories, seemed to have served to vindicate both the auditor general and the strident voices of local activists who have been questioning the proposed China Harbour cruise port development.
We will recall that the auditor general has been at pains to point out that government’s procurement processes need serious attention and improvement and that he has enjoined the government to follow international best practices in this regard.
We may also recall that such caution was issued in the wake of the Cohen and Cohen financing deal, where the procedural norm of going to the Central Tenders Committee (CTC) was bypassed. Although Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said the Premier (and Minister of Finance) did not break any laws when he disregarded recommendations by the Central Tenders Committee and, against the advice of officials in his ministry, selected New York finance firm Cohen and Company to arrange the loan last year, he noted that this was against the regulations.
To many in the community, the cruise berthing facility to be constructed in George Town has been another sore point, a case of throwing out duly established procedures and going in another direction.
MLA Ellio Solomon, who claims to be in charge of negotiations with China Habour Engineering Company on the proposed port deal, has stated on a recent radio programme that he does not know how CHEC came into the picture. Well, neither does the rest of the country. What we all do know is that GLF, the presumptive bidder, was thrown out of the running, which ended up costing the country a couple million dollars.
Mr Bellingham’s statement last Friday may have put a fine point on the whole CHEC matter. But what was hidden in diplomacy was that government needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a credible plan that is acceptable to the UK as our parent country, to the people of the Cayman Islands and to the Financial Framework Agreement (FFR) to which the premier has signed up the country.
The FFR requires government to get the expert advice it needs “to ensure it is an intelligent customer” when it comes to private sector suppliers and partners on major projects and calls for competent teams to manage all projects to ensure quality of service.
The FFR also holds government responsible for providing the UK with information regarding the country’s finances on a regular basis and on request, including tri-annual reports of contingent liabilities to monthly reports on its liquid assets and detailed updates on the progress of projects on demand, as well as proposals for projects.
Mr Bellingham’s remarks were a reminder of these very requirements and a caution to the premier that the UK needs to be satisfied that the cruise port – such a major national project – is being undertaken with these factors in mind.
“I fully understand about the need to improve key public infrastructure like the cruise terminal that will support the development of the Cayman. But I know it is vital for such a project to be procured in international best practice to ensure value for money. I have concerns for the cruise terminal project, which I have raised with the premier. I made it very clear to him that for me to be able to support the project, it must be in line with international best practice. I suggested he seeks the views of the chairman of (Central Tenders Committee) CTC and auditor general on how to achieve this,” Mr Bellingham said.
It was interesting to note the minister’s recognition that public confidence must be maintained in these development activities. So far, it is difficult to say that public has been imbued with confidence about the conduct of the port project and other developments such as the ForCayman Alliance. Indeed, too many questions persist about these projects.
The public can only now hope that this government will take into account Mr Bellingham’s timely warning and that as far as its procurement processes and major projects go, they will be conducted fully in accordance with the FFR and to the benefit and confidence of the wider community.
After all, we can all agree that in the competitive global environment in which we operate, there is an imperative to jealously guard Cayman’s reputation as a great place to do business.
Development should not be rushed at the expense of proper procedures or the law of the land. It should certainly not be conducted in a manner that will burden the people of the Cayman Islands for generations to come.