What’s the plan? Forum panellists ask

Panellists at the Future of Cayman Forum 2012 identified inadequate planning as an obstacle toward achieving goals shared between the public and private sector.  

 

The 23 November conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, is part of the ongoing collaboration between the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce and government launched in 2010. It’s hoped that Friday’s forum will become a regular series of conferences to apprise people on the status of the programme. 

For the past two years, government and business leaders have been working on five key economic drivers: “build a smarter infrastructure”, “develop talent”, “create a business friendly climate”, “enhance quality of life” and “diversify the economy”. 

The 2012 forum focussed on two of those drivers, concerning infrastructure and talent. 

Conference chair and Chamber Past-President David Kirkaldy said those were chosen because they “were identified as the two most important drivers at this time”. 

Describing the country’s infrastructure and talent can be seen as “the bedrock of our economy”, Kirkaldy said all of the drivers interrelate. 

New Chamber president Chris Duggan urged all candidates for office in the May 2013 general election to read the Future of Cayman strategic report and evaluate the five drivers. 

As did others during the day, Duggan lamented the apparent lack of process on some major proposals that had been identified two years ago. 

“Several infrastructure projects continue to languish in uncertainty despite several false starts,” he said. 

 

Waste  

One of the country’s most significant infrastructure proposals is the For Cayman Investment Alliance between Dart Group and government, which includes Dart redeveloping the former Courtyard by Marriott into a new resort, extending the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to West Bay, closing and remediating the George Town landfill, and establishing a new waste management facility in Bodden Town. In exchange, government will close a section of West Bay Road so that the new Dart hotel will have be on the beachfront. 

During a panel on waste management and energy, Department of Environment director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the landfill component of the agreement has engendered controversy because the country does not have an over-arching policy on waste management that has been agreed upon beforehand. She said some of the criticisms could be avoided if such a policy was in already in place, and then any proposal by Dart (or anyone else) could be fit within that framework. 

“You should have a national policy before you have specific proposals,” she said. 

Dart’s proposal to site the new facility in Bodden Town is undergoing an environmental impact assessment, more or less following guidelines set out in the draft National Conservation Bill, which has not been passed into law. The report stemming from the assessment will be used when Dart submits its planning application for the facility. 

“The current debate over, ‘is it a good thing, is it a bad thing’, is because we’re operating in an environment where there isn’t an overall national policy,” Ebanks-Petrie said. 

 

Energy  

On the other hand, Ebanks-Petrie held up the National Energy Policy, which is still being formed, as a positive example of how government can set standards and priorities for future development.  

“I think it’s a good thing that as a country we’ve actually recognised the need to create a National Energy Policy. I think that just as [Home Gas general manager Dayne Brady] said: There’s not one silver bullet to reducing our carbon emissions or reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, so we have to be comprehensive in our approach,” she said. 

“We need to look at land use, the way that we plan our communities, transportation, our road network, whether we are going to move toward some kind of bus system or some other kind of mass transit system that’s out there. And then also look at energy efficiency in the way we build our buildings, but also put incentives in place to incorporate renewable energy into large developments and homes, not just at the commercial level.” 

The National Energy Policy initiative was launched in 2010. As of October 2011, subcommittees were expected to submit their draft reports to the National Energy Policy Committee, with public consultation and policy implementation set to take place in 2012. However, the timeline was pushed back in order to seek guidance from outside consultants. 

“The policy is attempting to be comprehensive. I just really hope that when we get the draft policy that we can also have it taken out to public consultation, which I believe is the plan and that it will get the support necessary to have it adopted by government, and it will serve as a framework, a guide moving forward for the way that we operate in Cayman with respect to energy,” Ebanks-Petrie said. 

 

Communications  

Panellists from the data and communications sector also pointed to the need for a countrywide framework. 

Digicel Cayman CEO Chris Hayman referred to instances where multiple companies end up conducting work on similar infrastructure projects at nearly the same time and location, without coordination sufficient enough to prevent the same road from being dug up multiple times. 

“I think that really comes back down to planning. If there’s a need for a national plan, it’s actually to lay a framework of implementation and then leave the competition to see how it’s actually going to best share that. At a national plan level, it needs to be a framework that’s put in place for how we do this more sensibly, but not necessarily invest in more co-shared infrastructure,” he said. 

Delphi Ltd. General Manager Malcolm Ellis asked to what extent a national data infrastructure plan might help to make the market more efficient and lower costs to consumers. 

Citing his previous work with US Pres. Barack Obama’s National Broadband Plan, WestStar TV CEO Bob Taylor said, “The problem with plans like that in the United States are they set the bar very low. You tend to get the lowest common denominator, not the best.” 

Taylor said if you look at are considered state-of-the-art services in the US, such as super-fast broadband service being pioneered by Google, those companies are “doing almost the opposite of the National Broadband Plan”. 

He said, “There is a need for guidance and a gentle hand from the regulator, as well as some goals and objectives. All of that can be accomplished. The problem at least from the United States perspective is the national plan doesn’t deliver the best. It delivers a common OK.” 

 

Infrastructure  

The final infrastructure panel of the conference focussed on if there is a need and a way for Cayman to implement a National Infrastructure Plan, perhaps based on the UK’s model, and what a smarter infrastructure for Cayman might look like. 

The UK’s National Infrastructure Plan 2011 identifies and prioritises hundreds of infrastructure projects across the nation, and outlines how to fund those needs. 

Tristan Hydes, deputy chief officer for the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture said that type of initiative would probably fall within the scope of his ministry. 

“I think it can be done,” he said. 

Cayman Islands Water Authority Director Gelia Frederick-van Genderen had just read over the UK’s plan the day of the conference. 

“Just looking at that and how easy it was to read, I think the process that they went through in the United Kingdom to produce such a document must be something that we can jump on and utilise some of the process. Cayman’s a lot smaller,” she said. 

She said Cayman’s National Energy Policy could provide an example of how to bring the public and private sector together to prepare for the future. 

“I think we have had a lot of ad hoc development. We hear of many big plans. For instance, the Dr. Shetty hospital was to have 15,000 employees in 15 years. That is going to have a tremendous impact on every type of infrastructure here in Cayman because it’s not just those 15,000 people in 15 years. It’s all of the patients, the associated family members, etc. that will come with them. If that is going to happen, we need to have a plan to address it,” she said. 

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