Rankine stresses economy, education

North Side candidate Oswell Rankine, who has been campaigning on his published manifesto, said this week that the issues getting the most response are the economy and education.

The two are very much intertwined and have to be looked at together, he pointed out. Thousands of people are here on work permits for jobs that Caymanians could do if there were a trade school to provide training, Mr. Rankine said.

He would work to re-focus on technical and vocational training. ‘That was the basis of the Community College originally,’ he pointed out.

Mr. Rankine decried the policy of social promotion. ‘We see too many youngsters coming out of high school barely literate and numerate. I would put forward very strongly the alternative of promotion by achievement.’

If a student falls behind his or her class, it is better to stay behind a year and catch up rather than be promoted and have the gap widen, he said.

Meanwhile there are Caymanians capable of filling positions now held by people on work permits. It is difficult to get actual numbers of unemployed because people do not register with the Department of Employment Relations. It will take strong leadership in the community to work with the labour office – it has to be done within the district, he said, because people are not going to the office in downtown George Town.

The second step is to match the worker’s skills with employment opportunities. Third, Mr. Rankine encourages the unemployed to ‘take what you can get now’ and take advantage of any training opportunities.

These islands are impacted by the world economy, he said.

‘Some people believe Cayman is God’s gift to the world and we can’t have trouble here, but that’s not true.’

Companies are downsizing, which means job opportunities are decreasing. A majority of high school graduates have no work to go to and college graduates returning home have been told ‘we don’t have any jobs for you,’ Mr. Rankine said.

He suggested computer technology as an area of serious investigation for potential employment. Instead of outsourcing to India, where labour is cheap, overseas companies could outsource to Cayman.

‘We have one of the best telecommunications systems in the world,’ he pointed out.

A former party member, Mr. Rankine is standing as an independent.

‘I resigned from the People’s Progressive Movement in April 2006 because what was put to the people in the manifesto was not being translated into action on the ground.’

A former teacher, primary school principal and education officer, he also served as principal secretary and then district commissioner for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Since his retirement from the civil service he has worked in the private sector and sees issues from both perspectives.

As important as education is, he questioned the size of the new high school being built in Frank Sound. Good facilities are important, he agreed, but he would focus on curriculum and quality of education. ‘We need to rethink how we spend out money. I do not believe we are getting value for money,’ Mr. Rankine said.

Another aspect of the new high school is the number of persons working in construction there who are on permits. The school is the biggest investment in the district in decades, but few North Siders are working there. ‘Where is the leadership that says ‘I need some priority for my people, not imported workers?” he asked.

Other issues he has addressed include social development, transport and public safety.

Community policing is needed, he said, but ‘we also need to police ourselves.’

He would also like to see more community-based sentences for offenders. ‘Once you’re in prison you’re stigmatised,’ he said. ‘Community service is one of the best answers.’

Returning to the value for money theme, he would like to see tourism adverting budgets cut, with some of those funds being spent to improve the quality of attractions. Mr. Rankine would promote a district heritage museum and tourist-oriented ventures such as small watersports operations and guided hikes for bird-watching.

He would like to start a ‘Meet the People’ programme, which has been so successful in Jamaica, with local families hosting visitors for a day.

Mr. Rankine would like to see the district civic centre used more frequently for cultural activities, with adults volunteering to assist with after-school activities and already established youth groups.