Two members of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly said Thursday that they were concerned “revolution” might come to the territory if the younger, more educated people in it were not given proper opportunities at work and within the larger society.
“Caymanians increasingly believe that they are not getting the opportunities that they deserve,” North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said during a panel debate hosted by nonprofit organisation Generation Now on Thursday evening at the Harquail Theatre in Grand Cayman.
“I’m not talking about a dependency mentality. I’m talking about people who have gone and earned the right to have the opportunity by often-times going to other countries and enduring the cultural shocks … to get an education, come back and be told that they can’t even get an interview because it’s too easy to get a work permit.”
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, whose People’s Progressive Movement political party has adopted a softer stance on immigration-related issues in recent years, also chimed in on the issue Thursday.
“As important as the financial services sector is … it has to afford opportunities for Caymanians,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “All Caymanians ask for is a chance; if they don’t measure up … then they may need to find something else to do.
“But if we don’t address that issue, as Ezzard has said, a revolution is coming.”
Cayman Finance Chairman Richard Coles, who also participated in the Generation Now panel discussion, said he didn’t want to get into the politics of the discussion on Caymanian versus expatriate employment. However, Mr. Coles said he personally was in favour of Caymanians getting into the financial services industry and advancing “right to the very highest levels”.
“If they’re qualified to do and capable of doing it, that’s exactly what should happen,” Mr. Coles said.
Mr. Miller had earlier referred to a revolution in the context of frustrated and well-educated younger people who are struggling to find a place in local society. He said these talented and creative individuals were more likely to take on issues that worsened their lots in life than the poorer or under-educated individuals in a society.
The MLAs comments curiously echoed some statements that have been appearing in various social media around the Cayman Islands for some time.
One of the comments appeared last week on the www.cayCompass.com website, posted by an anonymous writer: “I would LOVE to take some pictures to show my future grandchildren share with them the early days of the CAYMAN ISLANDS REVOLUTION when the expats tried to rule the day but we CAYMANIANS OVERCAME!!”
Mr. McLaughlin, a successful private practice lawyer who sometime jokes that he made the “irrational” decision to go into politics, said he “understood the challenges” faced by Caymanian workers trying to succeed.
“There is still a significant resistance in some quarters to hiring Caymanians and giving them an opportunity,” he said.
“My wife struggled for nearly two years to get articles in a law firm, notwithstanding the face that she had a high … degree and a commendation in the professional practice course.
“I still shake my head and wonder why is it that we can have 500-plus lawyers here … and almost every week new lawyers are being admitted even in these depressed times,” he said.
Mr. Miller said during Thursday night’s panel discussion that part of the problem for government is that it earns so much revenue from the issuance of work permit fees and other residency permits from the Immigration Department.
“Government’s policy is ‘we need the work permit to get the revenue,’” Mr. Miller said.
According the Immigration Department’s own figures, more than $70 million in revenues were earned during the 2011/12 budget, mostly through the issuance of work permits.
A proposed payroll tax on work permit holders earning at least $36,000 a year would have generated another $50 million, according to government estimates.
That proposal has since been removed from consideration by Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush.