Legislative luncheon takes on economy

Cayman’s business community recently had an opportunity to hear Chamber president Eddie Thompson and Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts address a range of topics including the upcoming election, immigration and the economy.

‘The global economy is experiencing a deep and prolonged recession that may continue through 2010,’ said Mr. Thompson.

‘The next government will face these conditions so it will be important for us to elect political leaders who are capable of understanding the issues and leading the country during what is likely to become one of the most challenging periods in recent history.’

Mr. Thompson, speaking at the most recent Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon, announced the Chamber will hold district forums for candidates in May’s election.

Mr. Thompson’s address emphasised the need for Cayman to tackle the impacts of the global economic crisis.

‘We believe it will be vitally important for Government to re-examine its financial projections to ensure that its revenue expectations are conservative at a time when all economies in the world are forecasting negative growth,’ he said.

He stressed the need to prepare for new regulations procedures and pressures targeted against international financial centres.

‘The public sector must roll out a red carpet service for businesses. We must re-evaluate all business systems in Government and improve the processing times at Customs, Immigration, Planning, Registrar of Companies and all boards that interact with customers,’ he said.

Within the tourism sector, Mr. Thompson recommended the establishment of a Tourism Authority, and appointment of a full time director of cruise tourism.

He suggested the redevelopment of the George Town port include other economic diversification strategies such as a marina, permanent docking facilities for luxury yachts and other agencies in the region, and that it explore all forms of public and private partnership.

‘This project, if commissioned, will become the largest infrastructural development project in the history of the country, making it vital that all options for redevelopment are explored before reaching a final decision,’ he said.

‘Should the EIA assessment allow for the development of the port, we, as a nation, need to pause and determine whether such a development will benefit a few merchants, or our collective countrymen, in both the immediate and the long term.’

Mr. Thompson cited the need to establish a new government body responsible for developing policy, legislation and regulations for the industry.

He also stressed building on the substance of financial firms in the form of executives in physical offices in Cayman making substantive decisions and performing substantive tasks.

‘Simply appointing an existing local service provider (such as a trust company or management company) is not the way forward,’ he said.

He urged a more transparent immigration system, as well as exempting broad industry categories from the more burdensome immigration requirements and fast tracking of key people.

He advocated senior Immigration officials travel with Government representatives to key locations and speak at conferences detailing immigration procedures.

He argued for an improved international relations programme and effective lobbying effort whereby Government, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority and the private sector would host and speak at relevant international conferences, as well as write academic papers illustrating the Cayman Islands’ position.

He also encouraged the hiring of lobbyists and media experts in Washington, London, and Brussels charged with staffing representative offices promoting Cayman as a financial services centre.

‘I have established several committees addressing such subjects as foreign direct investment, small business, international trade, the environment, leadership development and economic development to provide our elected leaders with information that can assist them with making key decisions,’ he said.

‘We must all work together to address the challenges.’

Speaking after Mr. Thompson, Mr. Tibbetts detailed some of the ways Government plans to take on some of the challenges.

He said some types of work permits are now being processed administratively and he outlined a new accreditation system being put in place for businesses to hold them more accountable.

He said projections are that unemployment will not exceed 4 per cent over the next fiscal year.

He explained his Government’s decision to proceed with numerous and costly capital projects, saying they all have a beneficial trickle-down effect.

‘Businesses are benefiting because additional demand has been created for their goods and services. Government spending on capital projects is also contributing to maintaining employment levels.’

Noting the establishment of the economic monitoring and advisory group and the financial services council Mr. Tibbetts announced a national consultation on the economy will soon take place to provide a blueprint for Cayman’s economic future.

‘It will provide an opportunity for the private sector and other relevant stakeholders to sit with government policy-makers and discuss how we should use this opportunity to reform and reposition our economy to make it better and stronger for the future,’ he said.

‘A modern constitution, which is now close to becoming a reality, must be complemented by a new economy . . .that is highly flexible, innovative, and competitive.’

He also defended the lack of a department of financial services, saying a core team already in existence means ‘the absence of a banner with that name is not the absence of the functions and activity.’

He also noted the ability of staff in the Public Relations Unit together with PR firm Fleishman Hillard to represent Cayman’s interests overseas.

He praised the contribution of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association to the relaunch of Cayman Airways routes to Washington and Chicago.

‘While falling shy of a fully established tourism authority, [this] still achieves the purpose of public and private sector integration without the added need to compel greater financial contributions by the private sector that would be necessary to achieve the financial model that underpins the tourism authority and allows it to be autonomous from government’s purse.

‘Given the tumultuous experiences over the past eight years, no one advocates for going it alone, but function in this case is more important than form. The plans to establish an authority have not been shelved but were instead suspended until conditions were more favourable allowing the parties to establish a more formal structure.’

With regard to cruise tourism, he cited the existence of a deputy director of tourism and a full-time cruise tourism product officer as evidence of government’s commitment to the industry.

Mr. Tibbetts concluded his remarks on an optimistic note, demonstrating his belief in the power of collective will.

‘We can weather the storm if we join hands as a nation and work together. Despite the gloom on the international scene, there is a ray of hope,’ he said.

‘Recessions last only for a time. We must therefore use this opportunity to plan for the future so that we can chart a way to greater levels of success. I believe this is possible because everything is possible if only you believe.’

The luncheon concluded with a question and answer session for the legislators in attendance, all of which were directed at Mr Tibbetts, regarding job creation for Caymanians, justification for the spending on capital projects, tourism, and attracting foreign investment.