The new leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush hit the ground running Thursday, meeting key players from Cayman’s two biggest industries – financial services and tourism – on his first full day in office.
Mr. Bush said he wanted to hear from representatives of both sectors about how government can help them through the economic downturn. He said he also wants to establish a direct line of communication between the sectors and his new United Democratic Party Government.
Thursday’s meetings came after Mr. Bush outlined an ambitious agenda for the government’s first few months in office in an address to the Legislative Assembly, after his new government was sworn in before a crowd of over 1,000 Wednesday.
Warning that the local economy will worsen this year before it recovers, Mr. Bush said he will announce an assistance programme in two weeks to help businesses and those at risk of losing their homes.
While not going into specifics, he also promised to have a short-term economic recovery plan in place by 30 June.
Building on a regular campaign promise, Mr. Bush pledged to attract more international investment to the Islands, flagging plans to host a developers’ forum in July.
‘I do not believe in going more and more into debt,’ he said. ‘Money must be brought in and we must find the areas that can draw investment here.
‘These islands must create the right approach and atmosphere to bring that money here to these Islands as it did come before.’
Mr. Bush said he wants to levy a fee on some development, which will be directly reinvested into affordable housing.
‘That way we make a direct link between success in development and helping Caymanians that need assistance to secure a home,’ he said.
On financial services, Mr. Bush promised to improve lobbying efforts in Washington and Europe and to address the legislative needs of the industry locally.
Among the topics to be discussed with industry leaders Thursday was a plan to create a financial services training programme to get more Caymanians involved in the sector.
After discussing immediate challenges facing the tourism industry Thursday afternoon, the Leader of Government Business said he would establish a working group on tourism by next week.
He also wants to know more about how the inevitable opening up of Cuba as a tourist destination will affect the Cayman Islands, he said.
Backing up a campaign promise, Mr. Bush flagged plans to create a Human Resources Authority by the year’s end that will bring together areas such as education, immigration and training.
He pledged to bring cheaper and greener electricity to homes and businesses across the Islands by undertaking a review of the solicitation process for electricity generation.
The review of alternative sources of electricity supply was not due to begin for another three years under an agreement between the last government and Caribbean Utilities Company.
‘If we are going to lower the cost of living in this country, this situation must change and work will start immediately to bring about the necessary change to allow for true competition in the generation of electricity,’ he said.
Declaring that voters had chosen unity over divisiveness, Mr. Bush promised to use the brightest minds available to him, whether they are Caymanian or expatriates.
To this end he said he will establish an Island Council to advise government on key issues. The body will draw its membership from all districts and will include expatriates, he explained.
‘We hope to work with all people that are willing to work with us as we walk down the path of moving this country forward so it can be a promising place for all the people here and their children,’ he said.
‘Whether you voted for the UDP or the PPM; whether you are from Bodden Town or West Bay, we must all roll up our sleeves and get to work,’ he said.
‘Whether your family has been here for five generations or whether you family has been here for five years as an expatriate worker, we must all roll up our sleeves and get to work.’
Mr. Bush also outlined plans to give a greater role to backbench members during his address Wednesday. He said backbenchers have been accused of doing too little in past administrations.
New George Town MLA Ellio Solomon will head up the National Housing Trust and will also assist with e-government and e-business, while Dwayne Seymour will be given responsibility for youth, culture and sports matters, including helping with the youth parliament and with small business.
Cline Glidden will be given a role with the Information and Communications Technology Authority; the Electricity Regulatory Authority; and will assist Hazard Management Cayman Islands; the port development and with fixing the situation at the George Town landfill, which Mr. Bush described as ‘wholly unacceptable’.
Captain Eugene Ebanks will work on matters relating to the environment, the landfill and the elderly.
Among the business undertaken by lawmakers Wednesday were appointments to a number of key committees.
Independent Legislator Ezzard Miller was appointed the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee along with one PPM member and three UDP members.
PPM representatives questioned why the new government was ignoring the convention of appointing an opposition member to chair the essential oversight committee. They also criticised the UDP for stacking the body with three of their own and an independent that has said he will support the government
UDP Deputy Leader Rolston Anglin said the committee’s membership will be reviewed once it finishes reviewing the previous government’s expenditure.