Opposition leader McKeeva Bush criticized the Government’s new Strategic Policy Statement for not addressing the high cost of living in the Cayman Islands.
Presented to the Legislative Assembly Friday, the SPS establishes the policy and financial parameters that will guide the 2007-08 budget.
In introducing the SPS, Government Leader Kurt Tibbetts said its overall theme was consistent with the PPM government’s campaign promise to build a sustainable future for the Cayman Islands, but Mr. Bush was concerned with the SPS’s failure to address the high cost of living.
‘How is this document going to ensure that people are better off and translate into better lives and stronger families able to take advantage of the good economic times we are now experiencing?’ said Mr. Bush.
He suggested that one area that could be addressed was high electricity bills.
In response, Mr. Tibbetts said that negotiations are currently under way with the CUC to address the situation and results are expected soon. At the same time, Mr. Tibbetts said supply and demand was in fact dropping prices in other areas and mentioned a double-digit rent decrease in recent months as proof.
Mr Tibbetts also remarked that current education reforms were meeting the challenge of equipping Caymanians to take advantage of the Cayman’s economic prosperity.
In addition, the Government announced a cost-of-living pay increase for civil servants on Friday.
Mr. Bush also expressed his concern with the high rate and costs of borrowing and the decreasing projected revenues for 2006-07.
Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson said that the borrowing ratio was well below that of many developed Western nations, while Mr. Tibbetts said the projected revenues were low in the SPS because they did not include a number of anticipated income streams that were covered in the budget.
After the debate, Mr. Bush said he is looking forward to hearing the details of how the government plans to deal with the high cost of living in the Annual Plan and Estimates on Budget Day in May 2007.
‘We can’t do anything about it until then, but it’s something that policy needs to address,’ he said.
With regard to the cost of living, Mr. Bush said he agreed with the results of the most recent caycompass.com on-line poll.
‘The cost of living is the most significant matter affecting people,’ he said. ‘And Government is not dealing with it.’
One thing Mr. Bush said the government should consider to reduce the cost of living is reducing the import duty rates on fuel. He noted that CUC’s rates are also affected by high fuel costs and that those costs are passed on to the consumer.
Mr. Bush also criticised the Government for allowing CUC to implement the Hurricane Ivan surcharge.
‘CUC just posted another increase in profits,’ he said. ‘It shows they were not in any serious need or trouble.’
‘The cost of living is the most significant matter affecting people. And Government is not dealing with it.’
– McKeeva Bush