As I read, listen and watch current events in Cayman today, I am desperately trying to find a caption which adequately describes our situation. The closest I can come is the words to an old country music song, sung by my friend the late Conway Twitty; We’ve never been this far before”.
I have worked through every economic downturn/recession this country has experienced since the early 1970s; starting with the collapse of Interbank, the stagflation of the Carter presidency when interest rates were 20 per cent; 1980-83 recession; the 1999-2002 downturn and now the present. All of these were serious, but what we are facing today is more than serious, in my opinion it is a crisis; particularly when you factor in the global financial conditions, especially the USA on which we depend for trade, investments and tourism. The Caymanian people should have gotten their heads around this by now and realise that sitting around hoping that things will soon get better is no longer a viable option.
I try to pay close attention to economic/political affairs both here and on the international scene. Some may remember during the last election campaign I publicly stated on several occasions that Cayman was heading into a five-year hole with respect to its economy, assuming we took the right medicine. I was criticized by some and doubted by many, but three years later we have not even diagnosed the illness much less written a prescription. I also said that there would be no “international rescue plan” for Cayman; instead we would have to rescue ourselves. This should now be clear to all; yet we keep looking outward for solutions when the solutions are staring us in the face. A simple exercise like inviting the best and the brightest in our community to contribute their ideas, knowledge, investments and experiences to help forge a vision and strategy to help turn this mess around has not even occurred. Instead, our policy makers continue to surround themselves with political party beneficiaries.
Let us take a quick snapshot of our crisis:
We have a bloated, inefficient government, which appears incapable of keeping a proper set of books
A government that is approximately US$1 billion in debt, with no cash.
A government management system, which is in dire need of reform; operating on flawed principles with no accountability and old tired thinking.
A Financial Industry that is shrinking daily (some say dying)
A Tourism Industry that has been on autopilot for about 20 years
The continuous degradation of our fragile environment
An overbuilt real estate market with few new customers and a stubborn refusal to implement any type of moratorium to help maintain values
An education system that produces more prisoners than skilled tradesmen
The highest unemployment in 30 years with no meaningful skills training despite having over 20 thousand foreign workers employed
An unprecedented crime wave
The highest cost of living in our history with fuel and electricity being the main drivers, along with high commodity prices in the USA from which we import all we consume.
A gradual entrenchment of political party divisiveness, which will soon become permanent, while copying the mistakes that have contributed to the demise of other countries.
A shrinking middle class (the backbone of any society); an increase of the lower class and the consolidation of our shrinking local commerce by large conglomerates.
Small businesses and individuals losing their assets to foreclosures.
Most important – young people who dare not dream because drifting is more popular and alternative opportunities are becoming scarcer.
These are just some of the challenges on Cayman’s radar, but if one had to describe their cumulative affects; “a perfect storm of trouble” comes to mind. To pull through will require a steady focus on conditions and corrections not going in circles with pronouncements and retractions that threaten to finish off what little credibility we have left.
In any discussion relating to our situation- we must take a quick look in our rear view mirror. For the past 35 years we have developed a country without a vision or a plan (latest development plan 1977). The rate of development simply outpaced the abilities and wishes of our people. We did it by “flying by the seat of our pants” as they say, with no idea of what the final product would look like. Are we now living the final product? Serious mistakes have been made in the management of our affairs and many of these continue today; it is imperative that these be admitted and identified before we can move forward in a sustainable direction.
For us to manage this crisis and extract the opportunities from it, we must be prepared for significant changes in almost all aspects of our lives. The challenge before us all is how we move forward with a new vision, clear strategies and plans that include all of our people; all missing ingredients in the way we currently manage our affairs. One thing is certain-we must discard the idea that past routine, past ways of doing things are probably the best ways. On the contrary, we must assume that there is room for improvement in all areas. There is probably a better way to do almost everything. Our leadership must now consist of those who reject common thinking to accomplish uncommon results. Policies based on popularity and the next election must be abandoned for policies that are best for all. Creative thinking is hard work and it demands a willingness to be unpopular and go outside the norm. Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking.
For a country that has received billions in revenue both direct and indirect over the past 35 years but failed to save a dime for the rainy days, these challenges may exceed the scope and abilities of many of those who helped to drive this country into this abysmal situation. The Caymanian people must now take the lead in determining our future and our young educated should be the tip of this spear, for it is their future, which hangs in the balance.
Cayman is our home, a very unique place was founded upon the seas, and built on a few sound principles by our forefathers who worked so hard in a mosquito infested land to leave for us a better land than they inherited. Our challenge is to do the same for our children and grandchildren. I believe we can, but remember, the greatest enemy of tomorrow’s success is sometimes today’s success. What some are calling today’s successes could become our children’s nightmares. We have one last chance to get this right and that is NOW.