We are laggards, says Opposition as arbitration centre opens in Cayman
A shadow minister has accused the Government of a lack of progress on its commitments after an international arbitration centre opened in the Cayman Islands while a similar facility in Bermuda has yet to get off the ground.
Plans were announced in 2018 for a hub to be named after Ottiwell Simmons, a former Progressive Labour Party MP and president of the Bermuda Industrial Union.
The site in Hamilton where the international arbitration centre is to be built was last week covered in growth.
Meanwhile, Cayman International Mediation and Arbitration Centre announced a joint venture with Canada’s Arbitration Place to run arbitration and mediation services at a suite in George Town, Grand Cayman, from this month.
Craig Cannonier, the Shadow Minister of Works and Engineering and Tourism, said he was “growing increasingly impatient with the lack of progress” made by the Bermuda Government.
He told The Royal Gazette: “We hear all the time commitments to this and commitments to that, but yet when you look at those commitments they are growing grass taller than trees and this is a major challenge.
“There seems to be no urgency to the challenges that Bermuda is having.
“The only way we’re going to fix our issues is by ensuring that we get more revenue into the country.
“The arbitration centre was a good idea. It was a good idea ten years ago when it was being discussed and we're still at the table trying to get it done.”
Mr Cannonier said last week: “They hate to hear that Cayman is being compared to Bermuda, but once again Cayman continues to steal our lunch because they understand that their people are important.”
He said that Bermuda was a “prime place” for an arbitration centre with its “great” law firms and accounting companies.
Mr Cannonier added: “We provide a perspective and an opportunity for these kinds of things better than any other, so we’ve got to get in the game — and quite frankly we’re not in the game — of creating revenue.”
An international arbitration centre was launched in the British Virgin Islands in 2016 and other Caribbean islands also offer services.
A press release about the Cayman Islands facility said: “The centre will offer two large state-of-the-art, flexible hearing rooms and four well-appointed breakout rooms for parties and arbitral tribunals.
“CI-MAC will manage the physical hearing facilities, providing a wide range of user-focused services and all on-site requirements at the centre.
“Arbitration Place will provide the technology platform and case management services for both virtual and hybrid hearings.”
Megan Paget-Brown, the chief executive officer of CI-MAC, explained: “Our goal with this joint venture is to help develop the Cayman Islands into a well-recognised seat and venue for international and domestic arbitration and mediation in the Caribbean, the Americas and beyond.
“Already established as a leading international financial centre, we now see the opportunity to establish the Cayman Islands as a leading international dispute resolution centre, given its financial market expertise, modern arbitration legislation, a highly reliable and supportive judicial system and world-class infrastructure.”
She told the Gazette last week: “We are open now for virtual proceedings and some smaller hybrid and mediation proceedings that are already booked and we anticipate a full-capacity opening in the next couple of weeks.”
Kimberley Stewart, the founder of Arbitration Place, earlier praised the progress of the firm’s expansion plan "in important locations in the Americas and the Caribbean”.
The Bermuda Government promised in its Throne Speech four years ago that two floors of the old Hamilton Police Station — the Allenhurst building — would be transformed into a centre for arbitration, with “complementary amenities” on the other levels.
MPs heard in November 2019 that the Allenhurst and adjacent Valerie T. Scott buildings were too rundown to be repaired and would be demolished to make way for the arbitration centre.
The government properties, on Parliament Street and Reid Street, respectively, were knocked down in 2020.
Ground was broken at the site in July that year, when Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, announced construction of the international arbitration centre, which would also handle minor disputes between residents.
The minister said that Chicago-based Milhouse Engineering and Construction became involved and proposed the facility “as a public-private partnership at no cost to the Government”.
Colonel Burch added then that Charles Daniels, an island architect, developed plans for the building, which would have five storeys with meeting rooms, office and retail space, a cafeteria, elevators, underground parking and an entertainment area.
The minister said: “The details of the financing of this project are being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance and as soon as we get the green light the financing specifics of the project will likewise be reported.
“Construction is expected to begin in December 2020 and delivery of a complete building 15 months later in March 2022.
“This will be a world-class facility with the potential to not only put Bermuda on the map as well as to encourage local lawyers to go into the arbitration field.”
Colonel Burch said in March 2021 that a proposal on the project awaiting approval from the Minister of Finance was for a “rent-to-buy” scheme.
He added: “The developer will pay and build the building and the Government will rent it back over a number of years in order for them to get their money back.”
A public works ministry spokesman said earlier this year that the centre’s development was “still under review”.
He added: “In light of the economic realities of the last two years, the advancement of this project is being balanced against critical infrastructure needs such as the Tynes Bay waste-to-energy facility.”
Colonel Burch said in August: “There will probably be some modifications on what we originally announced, but we are still committed to it.”
He added that Milhouse remained on board with the project.
The minister said: “Our challenge is the size of the lot, and being able to occupy the building and provide funding to pay back the development.
“We are likely to put some other people in there — other government departments.”
The Government was asked last week for comment but none was provided by press time.