The Department of Agriculture has planned an outreach programme to increase food production and lower prices.
Speaking during his contribution to the budget debate Friday, Leader of Government Business and Minister of Agriculture Kurt Tibbetts said the government was very concerned about the rising price of food here.
‘Now is the time to expand our domestic agricultural development,’ he said. ‘The more we can produce for ourselves, the better.’
Mr. Tibbetts said there were other advantages to the initiative than just being more self-sufficient, including more earnings for the farmers and lower prices of food.
‘Plus, it’s a lot healthier; we know that.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the programme would follow in the success of Market at the Grounds, the Saturday morning market in Lower Valley that has been going on for nearly one year.
The Saturday market was about more than just fresh produce, Mr. Tibbetts pointed out.
‘They have fresh fish, fresh juices, fresh fruit… It’s wonderful.’
Because of the success of the market – and the outlet it has given farmers to sell their products – supermarkets have been much more receptive to putting produce and meats on the shelf, Mr. Tibbetts said.
Aspects of the outreach programme include putting an emphasis on making agricultural operations more business oriented and technology driven; enhancing agricultural techniques; and providing access to greenhouses that require lower capital investment.
Ripping the Opposition
Mr. Tibbetts spent nearly three-quarters of his allotted two hours of debate time criticising the Opposition members and refuting things they had said during their contributions to the budget debate.
With regard to Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush, Mr. Tibbetts said his ‘hero in a crowd’ style of politics was an archaic model in which people were no longer interested.
‘The consensus model is the new model and the one that works best,’ he said, noting that the PPM government practices the consensus model through the consultative process.
‘My attitude is to make a difference for this country without being a hero in the crowd.’
Mr. Tibbetts questioned Mr. Bush’s sincerity in his religious beliefs, calling him a ‘supposed born again Christian’. He criticised Mr. Bush for being negative in what he termed ‘a rambling and uninspiring’ contribution to the budget debate. He said Mr. Bush should be ashamed of himself for suggesting the country was worse off now than it ever had been before and that the government should curtail its project spending.
‘If we don’t move the country forward, the next generation is really going to face the [hard] times the Leader of the Opposition was talking about,’ he said, adding that Mr. Bush’s political style has always been to attack.
‘He can’t think on his feet and articulate his position,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘He needs to get into a battle to shine, otherwise he’s Joe Blow.’
Dominoes and Cayman Brac
Mr. Tibbetts also took time to respond to comments made by Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, who raised the issue of Mr. Tibbett’s drinking and domino playing habits when he comes to Cayman Brac.
Mr. Tibbetts admitted he likes to play dominoes when he goes to Cayman Brac, adding that he plays with many upstanding citizens there.
‘It’s not evil,’ he said. ‘Playing a game of dominoes is useful. It allows me to mingle with people and to hear what is happening.
‘And I’m hearing from my colleagues that it delays Alzheimer’s coming on,’ he joked.
Mr. Tibbetts suggested Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly could learn from him.
‘She needs to come down from her house on the hill and spend some time with the people she represents and maybe she’ll learn of the growing discontent with her representation,’ he said. ‘Maybe she should play dominoes and hang out with the boys like I do when I’m in Cayman Brac.’
Responding to the allegations he had been drinking at a licensed establishment after hours, Mr. Tibbetts vehemently denied that allegation, as well as one that he has been inebriated in public.
‘[Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly] or none of [the Opposition] will see me inebriated, and they will not see me gambling,’ he said.
Rollover policy and the economic slowdown
Mr. Tibbetts said the government would remain vigilant to see how the complex international economic situation would affect the Cayman Islands.
‘But we did not create the economic slowdown,’ he said. ‘The Leader of the Opposition is speaking out of the side of his mouth when he said the rollover policy caused the economic slow down.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the rollover policy was not affecting the economy because the way the system worked, everyone who is rolled over is replaced by another expatriate.
‘So the same spending is taking place. What’s [Mr. Bush] talking about?’
Mr. Tibbetts reminded the House that it was the UDP government that passed the 2004 amendments to the Immigration Law that created term limits for expatriates
‘And if they hadn’t done that grave injustice with those [Caymanian] status grants, we may not have had to enforce the rollover policy,’ he said.
Mr. Tibbetts alleged that the UDP government was planning to get rid of the rollover policy.
‘They brought the law in place, but they told business people not to worry because as soon as the  elections were over, they were going to get rid of [the term limit provisions].
Mr. Tibbetts said he knew this to be true because business people had told him so.
Schools and a balanced budget
Mr. Tibbetts criticised West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. for misconstruing the meaning of the word ‘staggered’, which had been used by Cabinet Minister Arden McLean in describing the way the three new high schools would be built.
‘[Mr. Glidden] staggered all through his debate with the word staggered,’ Mr. Tibbetts said, explaining the government was not going to stagger the completion of the three new high schools, only the construction of them.
Because there is a new education system coming into place which will require the abolishment of the middle school and a sixth year of high school, Mr. Tibbetts said all three of the schools had to come on line at the same time.
‘You cannot begin with one high school and wait to build the rest,’ he said, adding that otherwise there would be schools on different education systems.
Mr. Tibbetts said Mr. Glidden was suggesting by his debate that West Bay would be the last to get its new high school.
‘Sure, that’s what he was suggesting,’ he said.
‘But the truth is the contractual arrangements caused difficult negotiations to take place and those negotiations where protracted.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the contracts are to be signed soon so construction could begin on the high schools in George Town and Frank Sound. He also said if everything went as planned, the high school in West Bay would commence construction in September of this year, which would allow all three schools to come on line in time for the school year that begins in September 2010.
Mr. Tibbetts also took time to refute Mr. Glidden’s suggestion that budgets presented at the beginning of the financial year only gave an illusion of being balanced because there are inevitable supplemental appropriations.
‘You may have a tidying up at the end of the year, but it will only be odds and ends,’ he said. ‘Everything else has been accounted for in this budget. It can’t be any more real than it is.’