A half-dozen George Town candidates discussed election topics Monday at the latest Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce forum, including their positions on government finances, solid waste management and cruise berthing.
The event took place at the South Sound Community Centre and is scheduled to be broadcast Wednesday evening on Radio Cayman.
The candidates included Marco Archer from the People’s Progressive Movement, Rayal Bodden from the United Democratic Party, independent Jacqueline Haynes, Joseph Hew of the PPM, independent Frank McField and Walling Whittaker of the UDP.
Taxes and spending
When asked about the looming national debt, most of the candidates said government should cut costs, privatise entities and resist new fees or taxes.
Mr. McField, however, said, “I think that to be simplistic in terms of how we’re going to actually control spending in a country that’s been spoiled for many generations in terms of expectation, is going to be difficult.”
He said the United Kingdom’s Framework for Fiscal Responsibility is a good start to shape up the territory’s finances, and that direct taxation appears to be inevitable.
“I also think that they have suggested often enough that some type of direct taxation is necessary, and the longer that is postponed, the more difficult it will be to convince people that it is absolutely necessary and beneficial to move away from indirect taxation that is destroying small businesses and the poorer-class people in our country,” Mr. McField said.
“I’m basically trying to be honest enough and brave enough to suggest that yes, direct taxation is going to be something that is necessary as a part of a debt reduction strategy,” he said.
Mr. Archer said the government can’t afford to continue giving Cayman Airways $23 million and the Turtle Farm $10 million per year in subsidies.
He suggested privatising a significant percentage of the national airline, with government retaining a significant ownership percentage. He said government could guarantee Cayman Airways an annual subsidy of $10 million per year, and then wean it off that amount over a 10-year period.
Mr. Archer said the country needs to figure out a way to make Cayman Airways profitable, but he doesn’t think that’s possible for a government-owned company.
In regard to the Turtle Farm, he said government should retain the farming operation but divest itself of the entertainment part of the attraction to a private entity.
“The project was ill-conceived to begin with, given that you’re expected to drive by the world-famous Seven Mile Beach to go and frolic in a cement pool. It just doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Archer said.
Ms Haynes said there first needs to be a broad review of the entire public sector, in order to define exactly what role government should play in Cayman.
“Having done that, the next step would then be to look at those services that we are providing and use that initial step as a filter to then categorise these services that we should be providing, these services that may be better provided by the private sector, and work from that high level,” she said.
On the topic of the George Town landfill, Mr. Whittaker said at the current rate, in 10 years people will be able to see the top of the dump from South Sound, and in 20 years will be able to see it from Prospect.
“Something needs to be done now. Anyone who suggests they should keep the current facility in George Town and further contaminate our beloved North Sound shouldn’t be running for this election,” he said.
Mr. Bodden said the new landfill proposed by the Dart Group isn’t in central Bodden Town. “It’s out in Breakers in the middle of nowhere between two or three big quarries. It’s not going to affect anybody in that area as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Mr. Bodden said the current dump is a blight for cruise tourists and stay-over visitors alike.
“What about our visitors coming in on the airplane? They get off into an old airport, drive though an industrial park, see a garbage dump and then head to The Ritz-Carlton. That’s just not a good experience at all,” he said.
Ms Haynes said Cayman needs a comprehensive waste management policy, including mandatory recycling.
Regarding cruise berthing in George Town, Mr. Hew agreed with Mr. Whittaker that any project should be preceded by an environmental impact assessment. Mr. Hew said he would not support a cruise berthing project that did not consider commercial cargo needs.
“There’s no sense in us spending the kind of money to put down a cruise berthing facility [if] we ignore the needs of the cargo facility.
We’ll find ourselves in the same position five or 10 years down the road when the cargo facility has outgrown itself, or the cruise and the cargo start to clash,” he said.
Mr. McField said he believes local businesses who benefit from cruise tourism could come together and fund a cruise dock without government involvement.