All four participants in the Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum Friday night listed education as one of their personal priorities if they win one of the George Town seats in the Legislative Assembly.
After education, however, priorities differed. On political issues, even when candidates agreed, their perspectives were different. These issues included gambling, dredging, referendum, reducing the cost of doing business and cutting the civil service.
The forum featured Ms Berna Thompson Cummins and Mr. Steve Blair of the People’s Democratic Alliance; Ms. Beulah McField and Mr. Lloyd Samson of the United Democratic Party.
Participants had no advance notice of the 10 questions, which were posed by Mr. Wil Pineau and Ms Angelyn Hernandez from the Chamber and Radio Cayman announcer Jay Ehrhart on behalf of the media.
For one question, they were asked to respond on a personal basis: What would be your three priorities during your first year in office?
Ms Cummins listed crime first. The PDA had just issued a statement on the topic, so she spent most of the allotted two minutes per answer to address traffic. She suggested going back to and revising the Master Ground Transportation Plan with its road corridors and opening up of land for sub-divisions.
Ms McField listed prison and community development as her other priorities. Government has established Eagle House for young offenders, she noted. She would do more to help them develop through vocational training and deal with addiction problems drug programmes.
Mr. Blair said his first priority would be a post-Ivan look at how people are recovering and then preparation for the upcoming hurricane season. Crime would be another priority: young people are getting involved because they are looking for attention, he said.
Mr. Samson put Constitution Review at the top of his list. There had been comments about the police in answers to earlier questions. Mr. Samson pointed out that no government has purview over the police; the Constitution gives the Governor that power. Decisions that affect Cayman are being made thousands of miles away, he asserted. He also would work to encourage ‘the entrepreneurial spirit’.
Gambling was also an issue.
Ms McField said that she is an ordained evangelist. ‘Gambling, for me, is not an option.’ However, she understood the need to develop a strong tourism product. The UDP had done a lot to keep it buoyant in a time of trouble. The Leader of Government Business would be aware of people’s views.
Other areas being looked at include a redevelopment of the Pedro Castle site. She would put more Caymanians in front line positions.
Mr. Blair said there was no way he could support casino gambling, neither as a Caymanian nor as a preacher. ‘God has been our Source. He will continue as our source if we continue seeking Him.’
He said tourism could be made more successful through such measures as improving transportation and making the product more Caymanian.
Mr. Samson said the question carried bogyman connotations from the historic perspective. He thought all revenue measures have to be examined. ‘Let us not be hypocritical,’ he commented. ‘There is much gaming and gambling in the Cayman Islands.’ Casino gambling is something that could be looked at, but perhaps it would be one of the last measures considered.
Ms Cummins questioned wanting casinos for the tourists. ‘It doesn’t work that way,’ she commented. ‘We extended hours for bars and lounges. I don’t see tourists flocking to our shores for that. We have wholesome activities. If they want gambling they are going to go elsewhere.’ Casinos would bring problems and other social issues, she predicted.
Ms Cummins noted that when she was in the Legislative Assembly (1992-96), for every dollar of revenue taken in, 65 cents went to pay civil servants. Cut out some of the bureaucracy, paper work and procedures, she suggested. But if we need more services, we’ll need more civil servants.
Ms McField asked which services people would like to cut. Cayman is a dynamic country, she said. ‘Although small, we are doing the work of a great nation.’ There might be some retraining and reshuffling, but not cutting.
Mr. Blair said the size of the service is only as big as the demand people put on government. ‘We may not need to cut, because they are resigning left, right and centre,’ he commented, to some laughter. He mentioned privatisation and pointed out that government is the biggest employer of Caymanians.
Mr. Samson agreed there could be less red tape. The civil service represents a significant portion of the country’s expenditure, so it needs to be examined, but from a scientific approach. ‘Casualties’ would have to be repositioned.
To improve health care, Ms Cummins said she would get assessment from professionals. She believed the present chairman does not have the knowledge. Staff morale is down: ‘We need to work with the employees.’
There is a financial aspect to running a hospital that doctors may not consider. She did not think the hospital was any worse than those she had been in in the US. She defended the chairman as well able to lead that ship.
Mr. Blair said the hospital needed better organisation to eliminate long waits. If doctors need better pay, ‘let’s get it done.’ Insurance is an aspect of health care, he pointed out. Why should people have to pay for insurance and then have to pay the doctors, he wondered.
Mr. Samson said health care is an essential service. It has to be subsidised, but the subsidy has to be limited. It must be cost effective, but this is difficult ‘because you don’t turn sick people away.’ There has to be better synergy between those who control finances and the care givers, he said.
The forum was held at St. Ignatius School Hall because the air conditioning broke down at the originally scheduled venue – George Hicks High School.