Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush has criticised the People’s Progressive Movement’s approach to dealing with the high cost of living in Cayman, something he said the party helped cause.
Mr. Bush made the comments during his debate on the Budget in the Legislative Assembly on Friday.
‘Our economic decline, the hardships being endured from trying to make ends meet from day to day… are a result of the poor policies and the concerted efforts to mislead our people,’ Mr. Bush said.
Revenue measures put in place by the PPM government last year were having a negative effect on the people and the economy, as were other PPM policies, he said.
‘Significantly increased work permit fees, trade and business licence fees, everyday costs such as licensing your car, increased red tape and the difficulty of attracting and maintaining the necessary people in order to sustain our economic activity, changes to our Immigration policies… all have increased the costs of living and driven potential business to other countries.’
Mr. Bush said the soaring high cost of living has coincided with the PPM’s rule.
‘The PPM Government which came to power with the slogan ‘Government you can trust’ is fast becoming ‘The Government which will lead us all to bust’,’ he said.
The cost of living problem is so widely discussed in the community and has caused such trauma in people’s lives that the PPM can no longer ignore it, Mr. Bush said.
‘[The PPM administration] has taken every opportunity to give political sound bites about the fact that it is concerned,’ he said. ‘If the PPM is so concerned about the cost of living, why have they not done something about it up to this point?
‘If they are about making a difference and delivering results, as the recent speech by the LGB is titled, where is the result on the cost of living issue? Where is the difference in the lives of hard working Caymanians?’
Mr. Bush said he had never seen Caymanians in such a state of despair except for the morning after Hurricane Ivan.
‘People are long past the euphoria of the election, when they believed the PPM, they’re long past that,’ he said. ‘With the beating they’re taking today, they cannot be happy and even if some are still optimistic, they must realise now that this country has no leadership and therefore they are bogged down.’
The cost of living has spiralled out of control, Mr. Bush said.
In the Budget Address, Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson said inflation was forecast to be 2.2 per cent for the 2006/07 financial years and 3.5 per cent for the 2007/08 financial year.
Mr. Bush suggested those figures were not an accurate gauge of the cost of living.
‘It is clear to me that the basket of goods used in the process [of determining inflation rates] needs to more adequately reflect the items that should be included in any cost of living analysis,’ he said.
Mr. Bush said the government had already admitted the basket of goods was outdated in conjunction with the current National Assessment of Living Conditions exercise.
‘So I want to caution our use and reliance of these inflation figures, which give us a false sense of security in the current climate,’ he said. ‘We can’t have this very high cost of everything and inflation is only just over three per cent. It’s got to be a whole lot more.’
In the policy statement Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts gave in the Legislative Assembly on 27 April, he said the government would be meeting with commercial banks to attempt to get lower interest rates and fixed-rate mortgages as one way of dealing with the high cost of living.
Mr. Bush disagreed with the strategy.
‘Even a first-year economics student would understand that interest rates in these Islands are a factor of many different things,’ he said, adding that the availability of long-term money, the costs of doing business and the risks associated with various customers in world markets all are factors in determining interest rates.
‘To suggest to our people, without even having a central bank, that the government is able to reduce rates charged by various financial institutions for loans is downright misleading.’
Mr. Bush said that back in the early ’80s interest rates in Cayman went up to about 21 per cent and people were still able to buy homes. It was only because they had adequate salaries that they were able to meet all of their expenses, he said.
‘If the PPM were genuine, and if they wanted to really help Caymanians, they would work hard a getting them salary increases to meet the high cost of living,’ he said.