West Bay political candidates took part in some lively exchanges at Thursday night’s Chamber of Commerce district candidates forum.
Independent Mervin Smith, who is endorsed by the Coalition for Cayman; the United Democratic Party’s Bernie Bush; and the People’s National Alliance’s Rolston Anglin took to the stage to answer questions from Chamber of Commerce members and the audience.
The forum got heated at times, with Deputy Premier Anglin repeatedly calling answers by UDP candidate Mr. Bush “wishy washy” and Mr. Bush responding that he would not lower himself to making personal attacks on other candidates. Mr. Anglin also accused Mr. Bush, who has previously run as an independent, as aligning himself with the UDP in a bid to win a seat. However, Mr. Bush insisted that he would not blindly follow the party line and if he disagreed with the policies of the UDP or felt they were detrimental to the country or West Bay, he would have no problem separating himself from the party and letting the public know what is going on in government.
Among the 23 questions asked at the forum was a query asking if candidates would commit to passing the National Conservation Bill during their first year in office. The candidates all said they supported environmental conservation, but had different responses about whether the bill as it is now worded should pass.
Mr. Anglin said that any proposed legislation that had been “knocking around” for more than a decade, as is the case with the National Conservation Bill, has “some serious issues”. He added that numerous standalone pieces of conservation legislation were already in place and suggested that legislation specifically applying to different areas of the environment, including marine and flora and fauna, should be looked at instead.
“We really, really ought to get back to step one because … we can get anyone to come up here and promise and flap their lips talking about [how] they’re going to pass it and when they get in, all the pressures hit – that’s when they’re going to understand all of the real complexities in this legislation. I believe that we need to get back to a very commonsense approach to how we move this type of legislation forward,” Mr. Anglin said.
Mr. Smith disagreed, saying the only reason Cayman did not yet have a National Conservation Bill was because of political agendas in Cayman.
“Mr. Anglin, you say pressures are brought to bear,” he said. “In many cases, our politicians over the years have had plans that did not include conservation but simply having everything on offer on the table for the developers and investors. This has led to the situation we find ourselves in … We don’t have individuals who, in my opinion, seem to understand that we have to keep a certain percentage of our flora and fauna and our natural environment or coastlines and so forth that’s a part of what has made us the attractive country that we have.” Mr. Smith said that he would undertake to pass the legislation in his first year.
Mr. Bush said he also supported the bill, agreeing that a lack of political will on the part of politicians who have been in power over the last decade. He added that conservation of the natural environment was vital for tourism.
“We should be able to take care of our tourism product and that’s part of where the conservation bill comes in, so yes, we do have to support it. We have to sit down and work with every sector and make sure that it is protected,” Mr. Bush said.
Chamber of Commerce members cited crime as one of the top issues concerning them. Chamber President Chris Duggan, reading a question from a member of the business chamber, asked the candidates what they would do to help reduce crime in West Bay.
Mr. Smith answered that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service needed to have more Caymanians on its force, while Mr. Bush said changes at management level at the police force needed to be made, as officers were being told to meet ticket quotas, which is leading the public to mistrust and to be uncooperative with the police “foot soldiers”. Mr. Anglin said recruitment drives for police officers had not been successful in getting many Caymanians to apply, saying more police stations should be set up in the districts, so beat officers can meet residents in their own homes and gain their confidence by becoming “a friend of the community”. He added that a harder line on crime was needed.
Responding to a question on whether any elements of the ForCayman Investment Alliance deal with the government needed to be changed, Mr. Bush said he would need to look at what Dart was giving back to the Cayman Islands as part of the deal, but backed the part of the project involving Public Beach, which he said was facilitating sports tourism in Cayman.
Mr. Anglin said he supported any agreement that would move the economy forward. “I think that we have to ensure that as we deal with very sensitive issues like waste management, that the county is brought along. We make the mistake a lot of times as public policy makers in believing that once we have a logical argument, people will get it but we need to bring the people along by demonstrating the real value of the proposal,” he said.
Mr. Smith had a simple answer to the question – that the court would decide if the ForCayman Investment Alliance deal would go ahead as the issue was due to appear before the court on 24 April. A hearing into leave for a judicial review by activists opposing the closure of part of West Bay Road is due to be heard in the Civil Division of the Grand Court on Wednesday, 24 April. Mr. Smith added that he did not support the deal because there had been no evidence that it provided value for money.
West Bay concerns
Responding to questions from the audience, the candidates agreed that jobs for the unemployed were among the most pressing issues facing West Bay. Mr. Smith said he and his running mate Tara Rivers had an initiative to tackle unemployment, which involved bringing Caymanians back into the tourism industry, which they had abandoned because it did not pay a living wage. This involves subsidising Caymanians for the first two years in tourism jobs, after which the establishments would take up the additional pay. Mr. Bush said the UDP had a 100-day initiative called “Cayman Works” that would help get unemployed people back to work. He said the UDP supported a national apprenticeship scheme to target the hospitality industry, as well as a “micro-business finance scheme” to help small businesses.
Mr. Anglin, taking aim at his former party from which he split following a vote of no confidence in former Premier McKeeva Bush in December, said Bernie Bush’s answer was indicative of the kind of “smoke and mirrors we have heard from the leadership in West Bay for the last 30 years”. He said he and his PNA running mate Cline Glidden advocated the continuation of the model of Superior Auto Apprenticeship scheme that prepared trainees for jobs and other similar schemes.