The Legislative Assembly passed a Private Member’s Motion last week calling on the government to consider several resolutions relating to hurricane shutter assistance.
The motion was brought by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush, who said the Cayman Islands and its residents were burdened every year with the need to prepare as much as possible for the threat of hurricanes.
‘Not all [are] equally able to deal with this burden,’ he said. ‘Our policy framework should not only enable us to be better prepared in terms of the country’s national disaster management responsibilities, but this policy framework should also directly address the needs of the wider community.’
Mr. Bush noted that the government had provided some assistance in the past by distributing plywood and improving hurricane shelters.
‘But the current policy framework still falls very short.’
Although Mr. Bush said that the system of distributing plywood every time a hurricane threatened Cayman was effective in protecting homes, it still had several drawbacks.
Mr. Bush said there was the need to source and install the plywood. It also needed to be properly stored to be reusable in future years and that many people did not have a place to do that at their homes.
Putting up properly constructed hurricane shutter was a better alternative, Mr. Bush said.
‘Hurricane shutters are far more convenient to use as a method of protection than sheets of plywood and we should be aiming to reach a point where most homes are protected in this manner,’ he said.
‘But the fact that so many homes remain without hurricane shutters is proof that not everyone can afford them.’
Mr. Bush suggested the homes of indigents be secured with permanent and adequate shutters.
‘This group is the most vulnerable in our society and we should ensure that they get some help,’ he said.
Mr. Bush also suggested the Government consider securing the properties of all front line public servants.
‘It is important to recognise the role that such civil servants play, especially during the hurricane season,’ he said. ‘They are relied upon to not only deal with their day-to-day duties, which increase during the hurricane season, but to also tend to their own families and personal needs.
‘I remember when Hurricane Dean was approaching last year, various civil service employees, like from the hospital and police… couldn’t get themselves prepared.’
Mr. Bush’s third proposal called for the government to consider establishing a programme to provide loans to qualified people.
‘We can see that it is not only the indigent that require assistance with this challenge and this is evidenced by the fact that many homes, not just those of the poor, remain without hurricane shutters,’ he said. ‘We have to ask ourselves why this is the case despite the knowledge of the very serious threat that each hurricane season brings with it.
‘I believe that one of the main reasons why we have so little hurricane shutters in place is that people cannot afford to purchase them.’
Mr. Bush said government could provide loans under certain conditions. He also suggested the government remove all import duty on hurricane shutters and related materials to assist the wider community.
‘Putting in place a duty waiver system targeted at this area is just as important as the current exemptions in place for educational items, for example,’ he said.
‘The additional costs and foregone revenues will be more than compensated for by the significant gains made in terms of protecting individuals, safeguarding families, protecting the financial security of businesses… and keeping insurance claims – and therefore insurance premiums – to affordable levels.’
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts agreed the people of the Cayman Islands needed to be prepared for hurricanes the best they could be and that not everyone had the same financial resources to accomplish that. But he also said that Government had limited resources to take on a country-wide project such as what Mr. Bush proposed.
‘Even if we were [able] there are new buildings completed every day, so it wouldn’t be sustainable,’ he said.
Mr. Tibbetts said one thing government could do is amend the building code to require new buildings, especially those on the coastline, to have hurricane shutters to get planning approval.
In addition, Mr. Tibbetts said the National Recovery Fund was seeing that all of the homes it had to rebuild or renovate after Hurricane Ivan were having hurricane shutters installed.
‘It simply makes no sense to have these houses rebuilt or renovated and something else happens and you have to go back and do it again because they didn’t have proper shuttering,’ he said.
Civil servants already have access to low-interest loans for hurricane shutters, Mr. Tibbetts said, adding that he could speak to banks about extending such provisions to the wider community.
Mr. Tibbetts said the government accepted and agreed with the general spirit of Mr. Bush’s motion, but cautioned that it wasn’t something that could happen all at once. He also said the government did not agree with waiving import duty on hurricane shutters because there was no mechanism in place to ensure businesses would pass the savings on to the consumer.
In his reply, Mr. Bush said he did not accept the contention government couldn’t afford a country-wide shuttering project. He claimed government had paid as much as $1million on plywood.
‘If 1,000 homes could receive storm shutters for $5,000 each, it would cost $5 million,’ he said. ‘That amount is not extravagance.’
Mr. Bush said the government spent a lot of money on many other less necessary things.
‘They can’t be short of money because they have spent, spent and keep spending. And the onus shouldn’t be put on government?’
Mr. Bush also questioned why Mr. Tibbetts rejected the idea of waiving duty on hurricane shutters.
‘Government has a lot of things duty free now, why is the Leader of Government Business so concerned about this one,’ he asked.
Compass reporter Brent Fuller contributed to this article