Candidates: It’s the economy

The majority of Cayman’s political candidates interviewed so far by the Caymanian Compass have identified the local economy and unemployment as the top issues to be addressed following the 20 May elections.

In a first-of-its-kind effort in the Islands, the Compass has questioned 23 candidates in the upcoming election on what they believe are the two biggest issues facing Cayman right now. The interviews were recorded on camera and can be viewed at our Election ’09 website at www.compasscayman.com/elections/.

The newspaper has extended the interview opportunity to all 43 candidates, and plans to continue doing the recorded interviews through the end of this week.

Those participating in the interviews identified a wide range of topics they believed Cayman needed to confront, but fifteen of the 23 said unemployment and the local economy would be their top priority if elected.

‘There’s no doubt, the economy,’ West Bay independent Bernie Bush said. ‘For too long, the powers that be have brought this country along economically and left the people behind.’

‘Everyone, I suppose, is concerned about the economy,’ said Bodden Town independent Sandra Catron, adding that it was difficult to narrow down the list to just two issues.

‘We can’t continue down the path of the only investments bringing the country forward and the only developments being those funded by the government,’ United Democratic Party candidate for West Bay Cline Glidden, Jr. said.

‘We need to get our unemployed trained to be able to take some of the jobs where we currently have 27,000 work permits,’ UDP Bodden Town candidate Dwayne Seymour.

‘Having 1,000 people unemployed is a major concern of mine,’ UDP George Town candidate Mike Adam said.

In what’s essentially a four-way tie for the second big issue, seven of the candidates identified the government’s debt level, borrowing, or finances; seven identified problems within the financial services and tourism industries; seven more said crime and social problems were at the top of the list; and six candidates answered that education was still a major concern.

Many of the candidates expressed concern about the government’s current level of borrowing and the lack of audited financial statements over the last several years. Others said the current $29 million budget deficit was also worrying.

‘Hurricane season is fast approaching,’ said UDP candidate for George Town Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden. ‘If we were to ever have a catastrophic event the way that we did in 2004…there’s no money for a rainy day.’

‘Starting four schools at one time does not make sense,’ Bodden Town independent Gilbert McLean said.

‘There are ways that I know we can streamline our own operations to improve efficiency,’ said West Bay independent Reginald Delapenha. ‘These are things that we must do immediately.’

‘We need to look at ways we can control (debt)…without adding tax burdens on businesses,’ said George Town independent Walling Whittaker.

There were varying views on how to fix the tourism product, candidates suggested everything from cultural tourism to eco-tourism…one suggested a free vacation raffle for visitors. Many candidates said there was an urgent need to bring Caymanians back into the industry.

‘People come here, they never see a Caymanian, and I think in the past that has been one of the drawing cards,’ said George Town independent candidate Burns Conolly.

‘We need to, first of all, clear our minds about what we want this country to be,’ said West Bay United Democratic Party candidate McKeeva Bush. ‘We want to encourage European travel. Europeans like to stay out late at night and eat late at night. We expect to shut down at 12 o’clock and think we can entice Europeans here?’

External pressures on the financial services industry also played into candidates’ concerns.

‘There’s ways of harnessing our financial product, and we need to be much more conservative in this island,’ said West Bay independent Henry Morgan.

‘We rely heavily on this and the domino effect hits all other aspects of our economy,’ George Town independent Eddie Thompson said.

Crime and social problems continue to plague the islands as well, in the views of many of the candidates.

‘We cannot ever allow a scarcity mentality to creep in where the Caymanians or foreigners get to the point where they believe there’s not enough for everybody,’ said North Side independent Ezzard Miller.

‘Once the residents of the country can’t feel safe any longer, then we’re going to lose all the other parts of our economy,’ Bodden Town UDP candidate Mark Scotland said.

‘We need to address crime,’ said Jonathan Piercy, UDP candidate in George Town.

‘We must find ways of involving Caymanians and bring them back into the economic pie,’ Sister Islands independent Lyndon Martin said.

‘Crime is a big issue, our society is being degraded,’ said West Bay independent Dora Ebanks.

Education has been a main focus of the current ruling government, but many of the candidates said the focus of that effort was misplaced.

‘We’re not educating our children to fill the jobs that are available,’ said Bodden Town independent Justin Woods. ‘We definitely need a vocational/technical school.’

‘We’re not allowing (kids) to learn properly,’ West Bay independent Paul Rivers said. ‘They’re finding themselves in problems, and then becoming a burden to society.’

UDP George Town candidate Ellio Solomon was the only person to identify Cayman’s health care system as a top priority.

‘You definitely need…your water, your food, your shelter, and I think you need to make sure you have your health care in order as well,’ Mr. Solomon said. ‘We need to deal with crime and we need to deal with health care.’

West Bay independent Lana Mae Smith was the only candidate to identify the environment as a major issue.

‘The two biggest challenges facing our country right now remains.. the environment and the existing immigration policies,’ she said.

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