Tepid response to discount appeal

Few companies Premier McKeeva Bush said
he would approach to give discounts to civil servants facing pay cuts have agreed
to give concessions to government staffers.

The premier, in a public address on
Monday evening, said he was asking supermarkets, utility companies, banks and
the national carrier Cayman Airways to give discounts to Civil Service staff.

Civil servants should not expect to
see any drop in their power bills, after Caribbean Utilities Company ruled out
giving them a 10 per cent reduction, as requested by Mr. Bush.

A statement from CUC in response to
questions from the Caymanian Compass, read: “CUC has received a request from
the Premier, the Honourable McKeeva Bush, to grant discounts to electricity
rates for civil servants. CUC has responded and advised Mr. Bush that the
company does not have the financial resources to grant any further rate
reductions following the rate freeze that was in place from 2002 and the rate
reductions given in January 2008.”

Neither of the water companies –
Consolidated Water Company and the Water Authority – had been contacted by the
government to give discounts to civil servants.

The director of the Water Authority,
Gelia Frederick-van Genderen, said “We do not have any information on the
proposal.”

President and CEO of Consolidated
Water, Frederick McTaggart, said his company had “not been contacted directly
by government regarding this matter and we would be interested to hear from the
Honourable Premier the details of what he is proposing.”

He added that giving discounts
specifically to civil servants was not a straightforward matter, saying the
company would need more details, such as how long the discounts would last and
who would be eligible, before coming to a decision.

“There are people that are facing
salary cuts, but others (non-civil servants) have lost their jobs completely.  Will people who have lost their jobs be included
in the programme?  Will Government
subsidise the discounts?  There are many
questions to be answered before we could commit to any such programme,” he
said.

Mr. McTaggart added that his
company was not in a position to determine which members of the community get
subsidies and which do not, “so any such programme would need to be
administered by Government, and Government would need to issue appropriate
directives to the private sector after agreeing the terms of the programme with
the participating private companies.”

Neither Foster’s Food Fair IGA
Supermarkets nor Kirk’s Supermarkets can afford to give 10 per cent discounts
to civil servants, according to their spokesmen.

“We are just not able to do that,”
said Woody Foster, managing director of Foster’s. “We feel we price our
products fairly and we don’t have enough fat in there to take out 10 per
cent…What we will continue to offer is the best prices humanly possible to
all our customers and not just one segment of the community.”

Thom Guyton, managing director of
Kirk’s, said: “Firstly, nobody has approached us from government, but we don’t
price our merchandise at a point where we can afford to give a 10 per cent
discount to anyone,” adding that the company had several regular in-store
promotions and offers to help customers save money.

Mr. Bush also asked banks to cut
interest rates for civil servants.

Gonzalo Jalles, president of the
Cayman Islands Bankers Association said individual banks would have to consider
that request and it was not a matter on which the association would make a
decision.

“We have not had any discussions on
this. It is clearly up to each bank to address this. We are not going to take a
decision collectively,” Mr. Jalles said.

Mr. Jalles is also chief executive
officer of HSBC, which, he said, did not have many civil servants as clients.

Cayman National Bank, while not
specifically agreeing to lower interest rates on loans for civil servants, is
willing to look at individual cases.

The bank’s president Ormond
Williams said: “We have and will continue to assist our customers on a
case-by-case basis and they are aware that we are open to discussing their
financial situation and to work with them in a reasonable manner.”

Butterfield Bank, in a statement
regarding the Premier’s request, said it was “cognisant that a number of
customers, across the entire customer base, have been adversely impacted by the
effects of the current economic recession since onset in mid-2008. 

“At Butterfield we look at each
situation on a case by case basis and work closely with our customers to ensure
their financial obligations are manageable.  We apply the same approach
across our entire customer and employee base.  Also, it is important to
note that interest rates are already at historic lows, both for borrowers and depositors.”   

However, some companies have agreed
to give breaks to struggling civil servants facing wage cuts.

Hurley’s Supermarket and Cayman
Imports, part of the Hurley’s Group, will give 10 per cent discounts to
government workers twice a month.

“We already have 10 per cent
discounts every Wednesday for our customers. To do it another two times a month
around civil servants’ pay day isn’t so hard,” said Randy Merren of Hurley’s
Group,

He added that to make it worthwhile
for his businesses to do this, he would expect a high volume of civil servants
to shop at his stores.

“The premier asked us to help, and
we can help. It’s the least we can do. If the civil servants are willing to
take those steps, we need to make it as painless as possible,” he said.

Mr. Merren said the twice-monthly
discounts would only apply to civil servants and a procedure would have to be
worked out to establish how those civil servants could identify themselves to
store staff to avail of those discounts.

No date has been set for when the
discounts would begin, he said.

Auto Spa in George Town is also
cutting prices for civil servants. The company is offering 20 per cent off all
services on Thursday, which the car spa has dubbed “Civil Servants’ Day”,
stating in an advertisement “The Auto Spa appreciates your sacrifice and
services to our country at this time.”

By press time, Cayman Airways
Limited had not returned calls for comment on whether it would agree to Mr.
Bush’s call for a 20 per cent reduction on “needed travel” for civil servants.

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