Late every year, the government lays on the table of the Legislative Assembly a document called the Strategic Policy Statement.
This document, which is required by the Public Management and Finance Law, establishes the policy and financial framework on which the next fiscal year’s budget will be prepared.
The SPS does not look to allocate individual expense items; rather it outlines the strategic parameters on which the government will base the next Budget document.
The 2009-2010 SPS is much like the other three submitted by the People’s Progressive Movement Government during this current administration. It contains six sections, most of which concern financial projections, financial targets or financial allocations by government ministry or portfolio.
Although the numbers aspect of the SPS is important, it would all be almost pointless if the document did not also contain a section that outlined the government’s specific goals and key policy strategies. In this section, the government lists its broad outcomes – meaning what it wants to accomplish – with the budgeted funds put at its disposal.
In general, the PPM Government has had the same broad outcomes in each of the four Strategic Policy Statements it has issued. Arising circumstances, like the resulting impact of Hurricane Ivan early in its term and the impact of Hurricane Paloma last November have created a need to adjust some of the broad outcomes on a year-to-year basis.
However, the core of the broad outcomes has remained the same, and those core outcomes have had one strategic goal: to improve the quality of life in the Cayman Islands. Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts spoke about that goal in his speech delivered on 10 December in support of the 2009/10 SPS.
“Despite the enormous challenge we face arising from the global [economic] crisis, the overriding goal remains the same for this PPM Government over the coming year,” he said. “As we have repeatedly made clear since our election to office back in 2005, we are committed to improving the overall quality of life for Caymanians and residents of our three beautiful islands.
“Every policy, every project, every initiative of this government over the past four years was undertaken in support of this goal.”
Speaking during an interview afterwards, Mr. Tibbetts outlined some of the key areas that needed attention to improve the quality of life in the Cayman Islands.
He said things like a good health service system and sound national security so that Cayman was perceived as a safe place were vital quality of life aspects.
“They are absolutely important to the citizens and those who work here, but also for those who visit our shores, seeing as tourism is a critical part of our economy,” he said.
Broad Outcome No. 5 of the SPS is to “Address Crime and Improve Policing” and Broad Outcome No. 9 is to “Improve Health Services”.
But there are three other broad outcomes, those of improving education and training, strengthening family and community and addressing traffic congestion that Mr. Tibbetts believes are also vital in improving the quality of life in the Cayman Islands.
The priority on education
From the beginning of its term in office, the PPM Government identified education as an area of focus and Broad Outcome No. 4 of the 2009/10 SPS – “Improve Education and Training” – renews that commitment.
“Our main priority for this term has been education,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
“Education is critical to the lives of many Caymanians. For many years, we have been living what we call this huge success story as a jurisdiction.
“But not enough Caymanians have acquired the necessary skill sets to participate in this success story. Therefore it is absolutely important that our system of education develops in parallel with the labour demands so that all of our children can find their own niche.”
Mr. Tibbetts said that “finding their niche” did not mean all Caymanians had to become doctors, lawyers or accountants.
“There are many other opportunities that exist within the technical and vocational areas, too.”
In his SPS speech in the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Tibbetts spoke specifically about “equipping our people with the skills demanded by the technology driven modern economy”, which would gradually have the effect of reducing the need for foreign labour for those types of jobs.
Part of the government’s effort to transform the education system involves building four new schools: a new John Gray High School in George Town; the Clifton Hunter High School in Frank Sound; the Beulah Smith High School in West Bay; and a new George Town Primary School. Work has already begun on the first two schools, which are scheduled for completion in time for the beginning of the 2010/11 school years. Because of the projected declines in government revenues due to the global economic downturn, Mr. Tibbetts announced in his SPS speech a construction deferment on the latter two schools, at least through the 2009/10 financial year. In early January of this year, Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin said the government hoped to build the George Town Primary School after all, under an arrangement where the contractor would finance the construction.
However, Mr. Tibbetts pointed out that the education transformation was not merely about improving the physical plant, but also a “radical transformation of teaching and learning”.
Already, the Ministry of Education has ushered in a new model of governance for the delivery of education that decentralises education management by creating a series of smaller learning communities.
Work on establishing a national curriculum is under way and the process of introducing the International Baccalaureate programme to the public schools has also begun.
“Any successful society has some key ingredients,” Mr. Tibbetts said during the interview. “A good education system is one common factor.”
Mr. Tibbetts believes education is the key for social contentment in the Cayman Islands.
“I firmly believe that with the right focus on education, within a five to ten year span, many of our social problems… will become easily manageable.”
Much of the social discord in Cayman these days stems from “a certain level of poverty, lack of opportunity and the feeling by some locals of foreigners taking away the jobs they should have”, Mr. Tibbetts said. “It is essential that children have the right educational opportunities so they don’t believe that they should be hired just because they are Caymanians, but that they should be hired because they have the requisite tools and skills to perform the job.”
The roads to happiness
Mr. Tibbetts spoke about the importance of infrastructure to the quality of life in the Cayman Islands. Broad Outcome No. 10 of the 2009/10 SPS – “Address Traffic Congestion” – points to a specific type of infrastructure: roads.
“Traffic congestion at peak hours has affected everyone,” he said. “It certainly has a determination on quality of life.”
Traffic woes affect the quality of the tourist experience as well.
“So it was necessary for us to concentrate some of our resources on improving the road network. While the task is nowhere near complete, we’ve certainly gone a long way in making improvements.”
The first major project undertaken by the PPM Government involved extending the Esterley Tibbetts Highway from the Galleria Shopping Plaza to just north of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel. The opening of that section of road in September 2006 had an immediate impact. Rush hour drive times between West Bay and George Town were roughly cut in half.
Then in late 2007, the opening of the East-West Arterial road from Red Bay to New lands considerably eased traffic going to and coming from the Eastern Districts.
Other road projects, like the widening of Sound Way and Dorcy Drive, have also improved traffic flow.
Mr. Tibbetts noted that sitting in traffic not only took unnecessary time out of people’s lives and reduced productivity, but it also added to people’s fuel costs, created more pollution and increased tensions of commuters.
“If you have to leave your house at 6:30am to get to work by 8:30, you are not in a good frame of mind to begin your tasks for the day,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
There’s no place like home
Broad Outcome No. 8 of 2009/10 SPS is to “Strengthen Family and Community”.
Mr. Tibbetts said having strong family structures not only supported the individuals in that family, it supported the community as well. Helping Caymanian families own their own homes was one of the ways the PPM Government made a decision to strengthen families.
‘History has proven in every successful country in the world, large and small, that the more people who own their own homes, the more stable the society is,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
“Part of the reason for this is a home is usually the single largest investment in most people’s lives and they recognise they need to be good productive citizens to retain that investment and to live safely on their own,” he said.
Home ownership for Caymanians holds even more significant implications. Given that property ownership was historically a birthright of Caymanians, the ability not to be able to own a home now, particularly when so many foreigners own properties, breeds resentment.
“Even in the olden days when the men went out to sea, the first order of priority for wives, mothers and girlfriends was to start their own home,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “It was not only as sign of stability; it was the first basic necessity.”
Although it is socially important for Caymanians to have the ability to metaphorically be kings of their own castles, their homes do not literally need to be castles.
“The key thing is for the home to be something they can afford to maintain,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “That’s where education will reap its benefits. With better education leading to better jobs, Caymanians will not only be able to afford homes, they’ll be able to afford better homes.”
Pointing to the work of the National Housing and Development Trust, Mr. Tibbetts admitted that the launch of the affordable housing projects has taken longer than anticipated. But he believes those projects will really take off in 2009.
“We had some trouble identifying and acquiring properties, but we now have land in each of the five districts,” he said. “Subdivision plans have either been approved or are in the process of getting approved for all of those sites.”
Unlike previous attempts to provide affordable housing, applicants for these homes will have to qualify for their own mortgages.
“Government is contributing the land and the infrastructure, which will give them the equity to acquire the mortgage,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
In the meantime, another NHDT programme launched in 2007 – the Government Guaranteed Home Assistance Mortgage – has exceeded expectations.
Originally, Cayman’s retail banks offered to finance $5million of loans over five years for the programme, but all of the money was lent in just one year, as 126 Caymanian families took advantage of the offer.
Under the programme, families with steady sources of income and good credit records can buy homes up to $200,000 without having to come up with a down payment. Once the NHDT approves a client and a loan is made, the Government guarantees to the bank the first 35 per cent of the loan amount. If there is any delinquency in payment while that first part of the loan is being paid, the NHDT does the follow-up with the client.
The GGHAM was so successful that the retail banks have already agreed to supply another $5million in loans for the programme and the NHDT has 135 more applications pending.
It took the help of the private sector to make the plan a success, however. When the GGHAM was first announced, there were very few homes available on the market for $200,000 or less. Mr. Tibbetts said that once developers realised there was guaranteed market for such homes, they quickly moved to fill void.
In his speech to support the SPS, Mr. Tibbetts said the government had made headway in many of its broad outcome goals set out in previous Strategic Policy Statements.
“Any fair evaluation of this Government’s performance will show that we have made significant headway in advancing our goal of making life in the Cayman Islands better,” he said.
The economic downturn will slow, but not stop, efforts to take that goal further.
“In light of the challenges arising from the global crisis, a primary objective of Government’s policy over the next year must be to safeguard [the] gains to prevent any erosion of our quality of life.”