Economic development and education emerged as top priorities for all seven candidates vying for a seat in the Sister Islands at a public forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Friday in Cayman Brac.
While the candidates – UDP incumbents Julianna O’Connor-Connolly and Lyndon Martin along with independents Moses Kirkconnell, Cantrell Scott, Maxine McCoy-Moore, Audley Scott and Kelly Thompson – agreed on key issues facing Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, views differed at times on how to best to address them.
Responding to a series of written questions posed by the media, Chamber and audience, all cited education and training as key to improving the quality of life in the Sisters Islands, which has seen a steady exodus of young people.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the first step would be to set up an investment bureau and development bank branch on the Brac to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs.
‘We need to be pro-active, not re-active.’
Mr. Cantrell Scott said more emphasis needs to be placed on vocational training, specifically in the hospitality industry, while Mr. Audley Scott emphasized the need to bring back office Government jobs to the Sister Islands, a sentiment echoed by all candidates.
Asked about specific projects each had in mind for job creation, the candidates cited the proposed medical school and the development of a business resilience park for Cayman Brac’s Bluff as two major economic engines.
Mr. Kelly Thompson also suggested building a Turtle Farm on the Brac while UPD incumbent Ms O’Connor-Connolly proposed relocating Cayman Airways’ reservation system to the Brac.
Mr. Kirkconnell said doubling the size of the Brac’s rest home would fuel job creation while Ms Maxine McCoy-Moore proposed relocating the hospital to the Bluff. She also noted that to capitalize on Little Cayman’s growing tourism industry, the island needs proper infrastructure in place including a port authority.
All said they were satisfied with the level of healthcare on the islands but agreed there is room for improvement, with several noting the need for updated and specialized equipment such as a CT scan, mammogram and dialysis machine.
Mr. Martin said the government has committed funds for a dialysis unit at Faith Hospital, which should come on stream soon. If re-elected, he would also look at ways of retaining doctors.
Mr. Cantrell Scott said Health Services needs to put more emphasis on prevention.
‘We’re treating the problem rather than the cause.’
Addressing plans to improve tourism, Mr. Martin said he would focus on expanding cliff climbing on the Bluff as well as launch a national beautification programme.
‘I believe cliff climbing is an industry we’ve just scratched the surface of.’
Others cited expanding nature tourism and promoting greater domestic traffic.
‘We want the people from Grand Cayman to come here for the weekend,’ said Mr. Thompson. ‘We need to put together package deals to attract them.’
Ms O’Connor-Connolly stressed re-electing McKeeva Bush – Minister responsible for tourism – is key to ensure continuity and growth in tourism to the islands.
Asked what were the main failures of the current UDP Government, only two candidates – Mr. Thompson and Mr. Audley Scott – criticized the administration, both citing its failure to listen to the people as its major downfall.
Keeping Cayman Airways afloat and expanding CAL Express into the Sisters Islands were cited by the candidates as among the Government’s successes, along with its quick action to open the island to cruise ship tourism post-Ivan. Mr. Kirkconnell cited The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, as a major achievement while Mr. Martin said handing out 1,100 scholarships to Caymanians in the past three and a half years was a major achievement.
‘We’ve built 1,100 great pillars…. and we will reap those benefits in the future.’
All but one candidate supported constitutional advancements that would include a bill of rights guaranteeing basic freedoms.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly, Mr. Kirkconnell and Mr. Audley Scott added they supported a move to a ministerial system of government.
Most candidates were adamantly opposed to introducing casinos and a national lottery as a source of government revenue.
‘It would be a slap in the face to God,’ stated Mr. Cantrell Scott.
But Mr. Martin and Ms McCoy-Moore both pointed out that gambling already exists on the island.
‘Lottery playing has been going on in the Cayman Islands since the 1980s. I’d put it to the people what to do about it,’ said Ms McCoy-Moore.
Mr. Kirkconnell said all revenue measures would have to be explored before considering gambling.
The three-hour forum, which attracted more than 100 people to the Aston Rutty Centre, was the fifth of 11 being staged around the islands. The next forum is Thursday, 21 April at 7pm at the East End Civic Centre.