A half-dozen candidates shared their ideas about youth, education, employment and crime Wednesday during “The People’s Forum – A Dialogue with Voters”, hosted by the University College of the Cayman Islands.
The candidates included members of the two official parties as well as independents. While the discussion broached sensitive and otherwise contentious topics such as sex crimes and school performance, no candidate uttered a word about the metaphorical elephant in the room – that is, West Bay legislator and former Premier McKeeva Bush being charged earlier in the day on 11 counts, including corruption-related offences and theft.
One person asked United Democratic Party candidate Jonathan Piercy of George Town what makes him different from Mr. Bush and the past four years of governance under the party.
Mr. Piercy said, “Honesty, integrity and how you treat people really has nothing to do with affiliation. It comes from within. At the end of the day, I’ve always said the United Democratic Party doesn’t define me. I am here trying to define and make a difference in the United Democratic Party.”
Posed with the same question, George Town candidate Stefan Baraud said he is truly independent and is not even affiliated with the political group Coalition for Cayman. He said he walked away from the UDP more than two-and-a-half years ago when he left the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands board after severely disagreeing with the government.
On the topic of crime in the community, People’s Progressive Movement candidate Kenneth Bryan of George Town said, “Unfortunately our society see a drug conviction worse off than a sexual conviction. That has to change.”
He said he supports bringing new sex offender legislation, including registration of known offenders. “We have to identify those sex offenders out there. They have to be put out for the public to see,” he said.
Mr. Bryan also supported allowing women to carry pepper spray and instituting longer sentences for sex crimes. He also supported better funding to educate the community about sexual assaults that occur in homes.
“Incest is a big problem in our country, and no one wants to talk about it,” he said.
There was a general consensus that education and positive extracurricular activities are key to reducing and preventing crime.
George Town independent candidate Winston Connolly said the government’s recently unveiled strategic plan for education is a good start, but that education planning should be taken out of politicians’ hands by seeking international accreditation for Cayman public schools. The international body would send people in every three years to assess the needs of Cayman’s education system. “We would set policies based on what they say, not based on what a politician can come in and erase from the last party’s term,” he said.
West Bay independent candidate Tara Rivers, who like Mr. Connolly is affiliated with the Coalition for Cayman, said, “Education is a victim of political circumstance.”
Cabinet Minister Mark Scotland, who is running as an independent candidate for Bodden Town, said the Cayman Islands needs to focus on educating and training Caymanians to replace work permit holders.
“We need to train them, give them stronger opportunities for lifelong jobs, not just temporary jobs they can fill on a short-term basis,” said Mr. Scotland, who has three children attending public schools here.
Mr. Bryan said the PPM intends to build a new trade and vocational school if the party gains control of the government.
Mr. Scotland said rather than spending money on a brand-new building, the current plan is to convert the old Clifton Hunter High School into a vocational and technical training facility.
Mr. Bryan countered that the PPM’s original plan was to build two new high schools and convert the George Hicks campus into a trade school, but the next government wasn’t able to get both high schools built.
Mr. Scotland said the government made the decision to complete one of the two high schools because it was desperately needed, despite mounting costs.
Ms Rivers and Mr. Connolly each said government does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.
However, Mr. Scotland said government has both a revenue and an expenditure problem.
“At present, in the current economic climate it is very difficult to cut Caymanian bodies from the civil service to go find jobs that do not exist in the private sector,” he said.
Ms Rivers disagreed, saying there is plenty of waste and inefficiency in the government budget that can be cut without having Caymanians lose their jobs.
Mr. Piercy said he supports “right-sizing” the civil service by enhancing areas of government that bring in revenue and retraining civil servants to fill other roles, for example.
Mr. Baraud said he supports reviewing the salaries of all ministers. He also said that a way to improve government finances is to privatise certain money-losing entities.
“Government should not be in the business – it should not be in business, period. It’s there to provide a service. It should not be in the business of the Turtle Farm, for example,” Mr. Baraud said.
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