Today’s Editorial for February 19: Tough times, tough decisions

Not surprisingly, the Cayman Islands has begun to feel the effects of the international financial crisis.

Tourism numbers are down. The financial services industry has lost a big chunck of its registered hedge funds and several finance-related companies have reduced their presence here in the Cayman Islands. Companies in many sectors are laying off workers, even some Caymanians.

Most experts agree the US economy hasn’t bottomed out yet and that the recession will, at the very least, last for the rest of this year.

Having peak tourist season revenues down here will make for an even longer summer for many businesses that depend on good performances in high season to get them through the rest of the year. We will, most likely, see several businesses fail during the course of the year.

In the backdrop of this crisis, the Cayman Islands will conduct its general elections. The campaign trail here normally leads to harsh claims, and quite often candidates point fingers at who they believe are the culprits for all of the ills of society.

In a year of financial upheaval, when voter discontent is likely to be high, it will be easy to point to Cayman’s expatriates as the source of problems here. Many candidates, no doubt, will use that ploy because it plays well with the dissatisfied; societies with problems are always looking for scapegoats.

Already there is a movement by the Immigration Department to reduce the number of work permit holders here. Certainly, if there is an unemployed Caymanian willing and qualified to do a job held by a work permit holder, the Caymanian should get that job. However, if Cayman is to remain competitive in the global market, the key stipulation of that scenario must be that the Caymanian is qualified to do the job.

Companies simply cannot afford on-the-job training anymore. If the government tries to force companies to accept square pegs to fill round holes in tough times like these, companies are more likely to just move those holes to other jurisdictions. If the population contracts here, so will the economy, and if that happens, the current economic crisis could escalate into something much more severe.

Instead, more than ever, the government should be encouraging and assisting every school leaver and even some of the unemployed to seek further education and training. Ultimately, the key to resolving the perceived issue of having too many work permit holders here is to first ensure Caymanians fit the holes of employment opportunities here before they start insisting employers – the vast majority of whom are also Caymanian – hire them.