In the first public meeting of his campaign, George Town independent candidate Burns Conolly vowed to help combat spiralling illiteracy rates and reform education and health care in Cayman.
Mr. Conolly said he had researched the common denominator of inmates at Northward Prison and found 70 per cent of them had difficulty reading.
He said: ‘Ill-prepared to face the world of work, they drop out, walk out, or are pushed out – and at 14, 15 and 16, there are far too many in our society who are willing to draw them into criminal activities.’
He said the price of a lack of education for young people could be an expensive one, explaining that it costs $12,000 a year to send a child to school, or up to $25,000 a year for college, but costs $60,000 a year to keep a prisoner in Northward.
Speaking at his rally on Tuesday night in front of the courthouse, Mr. Conolly said the system of education in Cayman ‘almost guarantees failure’.
He told the crowd that he would support a teacher-training college in Cayman to provide Caymanian teachers, and a move to pull kindergartens and pre-schools back into the public education system.
Addressing government spending, he said a public audit of accounts should be carried out and government accounts published online to allow people to see where money is being spent.
He insisted as an independent politician, he would not be stymied by political affiliations and mandates.
This is the first time architect Mr. Conolly, son of the late politician Warren Conolly, is running for office. His wife Sheena and daughter Lara were in the front row to watch his first campaign speech.
In the warm-up speech before Mr. Conolly took to the stage, his campaign manager Donnie Smith roused the crowd, asking them ‘What time is it?’ to elicit the response of the candidate’s campaign motto ‘It’s our time, it’s the people’s time’.
When Mr. Conolly took the microphone, he said it was time for change in Cayman if the country were to overcome the financial crisis.
‘It’s going to take every ounce of knowledge and perseverance to walk us through this one – and bullet-proof glass in the Legislative Assembly is not the answer,’ he said, referring to a recent proposal within the LA for greater security measures.
He addressed the unemployment situation, saying Caymanians should be given priority for jobs, as there were between 1,000 and 2,000 Caymanians out of work and 26,000 work permit holders on island. He recommended a bonus system for Cayman-companies who hire locals and said he would ensure new government contracts carried provisions for hiring Caymanians.
Mr. Conolly turned his attention too to the state of health care and health insurance in Cayman. ‘We cannot reject gravely sick persons to a certain death just because they do not have health insurance,’ he said.
He went on to propose the appointment of a board of health professionals to run the Health Services Authority. ‘Health care should be in the hands of professionals – not politicians or their appointees.’
He said he would support the creation of an international arbitration centre to settle legal disputes outside court, similar to centres in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Another initiative Mr. Conolly said he supported was the establishment of a Convention Centre, which would attract business tourism. ‘We have to find ways of diversifying and marketing the tourism product we offer, of enticing more people to come to our shores – the correct people.’
Addressing some of George Town’s specific needs, he said the first order of business would be a new primary school that had been promised to the district for decades.
He told the crowd that George Town needed a facelift, saying the city needed pre-schools and community parks, better lighting along isolated roads and trouble spots, as well as cameras to monitor crime-ridden areas. He also called for more local policing and neighbourhood watches.
The physical appearance of George Town also needed attention, he said, pointing out that George Town Post Office was filthy and needed a power-wash and that the Town Hall was falling apart.
‘Our historical buildings and sites are a disgrace; roadsides need clearing and sprucing up,’ he said. ‘All this while we pave roads, like the Queens Highway, with 18 inches of hot mix and build monuments to the politicians…’
He added that George Town is the only district without a civic centre or hurricane shelter, even though it is home to more than 15,000 persons, and that it also needed a sewage system.
As well as speaking to voters through public meetings, Mr. Conolly is also reaching out to constituents via his website, www.voteforburns.com, and using Facebook to highlight his run for office. He is even using his email address as an electioneering tool that carries a message – it’s [email protected]@com.