Letter to seamen upsets

A letter sent to seamen last week by the Minister of Community Services Frank McField has angered some of the recipients as well as members of the People’s Progressive Movement.

The recipient of one of the letters, dated 4 April, brought it to the Caymanian Compass on Monday.

Mr. McField states in the letter that his term as Minister with the responsibility for Seamen and Veteran’s Ex-gratia Benefits will end in May unless he is re-elected.

After speaking of the seamen’s sacrifices, Mr. McField wrote that their ‘tremendous contribution is one that is highly recognised by the United Democratic Party Government, to which I am happy to be a member.

‘It was due to this fact, that the UDP restored the grant that had been taken away by the past Minister and increased it by fifty dollars per month.’

Mr. McField then goes on to assure the seamen they are an important priority to the UDP Government and that he will pledge to continue to fight to maintain and improve their benefits, if he is re-elected.

The recipient of the letter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he took the meaning of the letter as a threat that if Mr. McField was not re-elected, he might lose his benefits.

When contacted, Mr. McField said that was indeed what the letter meant.

‘The PPM cut (the seamen’s benefits) before and they might cut it again,’ he said. ‘We will protect their benefits, and the other people won’t.

‘The PPM Government takes away benefits from poor people. They don’t tax rich people,’ he said. ‘The UDP Government gets money from the bankers and lawyers, not poor people’ he said.

Mr. McField said he should not be criticised for warning the people of what might happen.

‘There is a possibility I might not be here after May,’ he said. ‘What (the PPM) did before, they might do again.

The PPM, however, denies that it ever took away any benefits from the seamen.

Edna Moyle, who was the Executive Council Member (Minister) in charge of Community Services for the first year of the current term of Government, said a decision was made to re-evaluate the criteria for seaman’s benefits based on the Summer 2001 report of the Auditor General.

‘It is not true to say I made that decision,’ Mrs. Moyle said. ‘It was a collective decision.’

She noted the issue was voted on by McKeeva Bush, Linford Pierson, Kurt Tibbetts and Roy Bodden in addition to herself.

Mrs. Moyle said the purpose of the decision was to clarify the criteria of those eligible for benefits.

Some of the criteria restricted benefits to people living here in the Cayman Islands, Mrs. Moyle said, noting that the Standing he Public Accounts Committee recommended consideration of that very point in its report tabled in the Legislative Assembly last month.

Mrs. Moyle said the criteria also required pension benefactors to have been at sea for at least three years; and that they sailed while they were Caymanians.

‘Some of the men went to sea for other countries and then came here and married Caymanians, so they weren’t eligible under the new criteria,’ Mrs. Moyle said.

Another group that did not receive benefits were people who were still gainfully employed and had salaries of certain levels, Mrs. Moyle said.

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