A panel of George Town candidates discussed topics including the landfill, business, government spending and politicians’ moral responsibilities during a Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce candidates forum Monday night.
Independent Matthew Leslie, independent Roy McTaggart and incumbent United Democratic Party lawmaker Ellio Solomon participated in the event held at the South Sound Community Centre and broadcast on Radio Cayman. Mr. McTaggart is endorsed by political group Coalition for Cayman. Mr. Solomon is an elected member for George Town.
Independent Frank McField and UDP member Renard Moxam were also slated to participate in the forum, but were not present.
George Town dump
The candidates differed as to how to deal with the eyesore and environmental disaster that is the George Town landfill.
Mr. Leslie, who sat on the waste-to-energy committee at the time US firm Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. was selected to build and operate a waste-to-energy facility at the George Town site, said the Dart group’s proposal came in last place for good reason.
He said the proposal for Dart to close and remediate the George Town landfill, and create a new waste management facility in the district of Bodden Town, means government “went from the best choice to the worst choice”. He said he supports pursuing the earlier plan to institute waste-to-energy at the existing landfill.
Mr. McTaggart said the landfill issue needs to be dealt with immediately.
“At the moment, I am not convinced that the dump needs to be moved from George Town,” he said.
He said he understands there are about 30 acres of land surrounding the existing landfill site, which may be able to be used to develop a proper waste management facility right there.
“I don’t believe in just taking one problem out of one district and putting it in another,” Mr. McTaggart said.
However, Mr. Solomon said the current advice from experts is that it would take 25 years or more, with a capital expense of $200 million, to create a waste-to-energy facility and bring the height of the George Town landfill down from more than 50 feet to some 15 feet.
“What we actually have in George Town is, when it comes to the lining, it was simply not done properly,” he said.
Mr. Solomon defended the part of the For Cayman Investment Alliance calling for Dart to take over the George Town landfill and create a more attractive “green” space. Mr. Solomon also said the idea of locating a new landfill on the eastern half of Grand Cayman has been discussed for some 20 years.
In late March, the Legislative Assembly amended the Immigration Law to empower Cabinet to create “restricted areas of employment”, in other words, being able to reserve certain types of jobs for Caymanians or other residents.
Mr. Solomon proudly supported the measure, as he started the debate on the topic via a 2010 private member’s motion.
Mr. Leslie also said he believes some job positions should be reserved for Caymanians.
Mr. McTaggart disagreed with lawmakers’ decision.
“When one has to resort to passing legislation to guarantee its citizens jobs, then it’s a sad indictment on our immigration system because it has failed. When you start to legislate, you don’t get the best for people. You start forcing them into taking positions and jobs because of who they are, not because of their ability, not because of their desire, but because the law says this is reserved for you and you alone,” he said.
Mr. McTaggart said the current Immigration Law should be sufficient to ensure that willing, able and qualified Caymanians get available jobs. “But you know what? We don’t enforce it. And that is where our problems lie,” he said.
In September 2011, lawmakers unanimously approved a private member’s motion brought by North Side legislator Ezzard Miller to set a national minimum wage at $5 an hour. (East End MLA Arden McLean was absent from the vote.)
Mr. Solomon, who voted in favour of the nonbinding private member’s motion at the time, warned against unintended consequences of actually instituting a minimum wage Monday night.
Mr. McTaggart said he did not favour a national minimum wage and also warned of unintended consequences.
However, Mr. Leslie said he did favour creating a minimum wage, without exception for domestic workers.
When asked if government had a healthy relationship with the business community, Mr. McTaggart said it seems as if government has a good relationship with the tourism sector but a poor relationship with the financial sector, which has been lambasted on an international scale for more than a decade now.
He said government needs to coordinate with the financial services industry to present a unified front against overseas critics.
Mr. Solomon agreed that there needs to be a joint effort between financial services and government, but financial services needs to be prepared to carry its weight.
“The same institutions that are here in this country benefitting as a result of the industry and regulations that exist here also need to be able to fess up a little bit, come forward, step up to the plate and be able to carry their fair wage as well,” he said.
Mr. Leslie concurred with the observation that government has a good relationship with tourism and a poor one with financial services, and also added that government needs to improve its relationship with small businesses.
Mr. McTaggart said government needs to cut down on unnecessary expenditures, for example, on discretionary travel.
“Government really needs a formal travel policy. There is a lot of waste and extravagance that is taking place, that has riled this country up and I think for the right reasons,” he said.
Mr. Leslie said, “Talking about politicians travelling and whatnot, I’d suggest one thing: Have you ever heard of Skype?”
The candidates were not uniform on the practice of “double dipping”, where a lawmaker who reaches the normal retirement age begins to collect his pension while still receiving a full salary for his position.
Mr. Solomon said he wasn’t sure if the practice should continue, saying he would like to hear more from voters as to their opinions.
Mr. Leslie said lawmakers can make around $9,000 to $13,000 per month. “If that is not enough money to live on, then I’m not sure what is,” he said.
Mr. McTaggart said, “I think that double dipping is just plain wrong. I think it is morally wrong for someone to have reached the retirement age – and is entitled to a pension but who still continues to work in that position, whether it’s the government or an entity – to collect a pension as well as a full salary from that organisation. If you do work beyond what quote is the normal retirement age, then you collect the pension when you stop working.
“Double dipping is just wrong. I don’t know what else to say,” he said.
Several candidates are currently facing criminal charges, including McKeeva Bush, Joey Ebanks and Mr. McField.
Mr. McTaggart said, “I think the right thing, first of all, is that they shouldn’t be running if they are facing criminal charges.”
He said the current rules on who is eligible to run for office are “far too lax”.
Mr. Solomon said charges can be brought against anyone, hypothetically. He said voters can decide who they want to be in office.
“I don’t know. I do leave it ultimately to the wise decision of the voting public,” he said.
Mr. Leslie said, “Can this individual really worry about the country when
he has to worry about his own problems right now?
He added that on the other hand, people are of course innocent until proven guilty so it is up to them to examine their conscience, and if they are guilty, not to run.