From the time foreign nationals started coming to the Cayman
Islands to work and live here, there have been tensions between Caymanians and
These tensions have usually simmered beneath widespread
perception, but occasionally a catalyst – often an economic downturn – has
forced the bubbles of discontent to the surface, but there has always been an
ebb and flow to the situation, with the tensions eventually retreating back
beneath the surface.
The lingering global financial crisis has caused the
animosity to linger longer than usual, but these expressions of division have
largely been confined to anonymous contributors to online forums and to radio
talk show callers.
However, Premier McKeeva Bush’s announcement last week that
the government intends to institute payroll tax only on a specific group of
expatriates – those earning more than $20,000 per annum – threatens to alter
the generally tolerant relationship between expats and Caymanians in a more
This decision, which was announced after little or no public
consultation, was clearly made for political reasons. When Mr. Bush said the
government had opted for a “softer” tax, it was not because it would have
softer ramifications for Cayman’s economic future, but a softer impact on his
political party’s fortunes in next May’s elections. This is the politics of
division in a very dangerous form.
But something unpredictable has happened. Many Caymanians
have joined with expatriates to protest the planned tax and if the current cayCompass.com online poll is any indication, an extremely large majority of
Caymanians don’t support the plan.
No one, except possibly politicians, can benefit from a
serious rift in Caymanian-expat relations.
Many people on both sides of that relationship realise that.
We can only hope that in the end the government realises
that what it has proposed is not in the best long-term interest of the country
and that it explores alternative, equitable and intelligent ways to address the
development of a sustainable government budget.