The biggest challenges facing the Sister Islands, like most districts, is dealing with unemployment and kickstarting economic growth, according to the candidates vying for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman’s two seats.
The four candidates for the Sister Islands are incumbents Moses Kirkconnell, standing with the People’s Progressive Movement and Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly of the People’s National Alliance and independents David Bodden and Maxine Moore.
The issue of employment and the economy on the Sister Islands is intrinsically linked with tourism, even more so than on Grand Cayman.
Former banker Mr. Bodden, who is running for office for the first time, said the dive tourism industry on the Sister Islands is well known and well marketed, but he would like to see the Cayman Airways Twin Otters can bring passengers to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman swapped out for larger aircraft, like a 40- or 50-seater Dash 8. Although a Boeing 737 flies between Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, the runway at Little Cayman is too small to accommodate an aircraft that size, so the Twin Otters service both Islands. To create more jobs in the Sister Islands, Mr. Bodden suggested that a cruise ship dock in Cayman Brac could bring cruise passengers to the Island on a daily basis, thus creating work for taxi and bus drivers, restaurant owners and staff, and others. “If anyone comes to Grand Cayman, they will understand that is almost what is keeping Grand Cayman going right now is cruise ship passengers. We complain about them, we complain about how they congest the roads, but if they were not there, the economy would be worse than the Brac,” he said.
Mr. Bodden, who describes himself as an “interdependent” rather than an independent candidate, saying he plans to work with whomever is necessary to get the best results for the Sister Islands, told a Chamber of Commerce forum audience last month that it would cost about $4 million to build a dock on Cayman Brac, but a lack of political will over the years, rather than a lack of money, had prevented this from happening.
“Once a cruise ship industry is in place in the Brac, banking will follow, said Mr. Bodden. “Banks follow business. They’re not going to come and hope that someone creates business. I think it is remiss of the past governments that we don’t have at least one cruise ship dock here on the Brac,” he said.
“We have to have a stimulus here,” Mr. Bodden said. “The economy is not stagnant, it’s dying and we need an infusion of the cash that could come from something like a cruise ship that could come on a daily basis.”
Mr. Kirkconnell, who is deputy leader of the opposition and has served two terms in the Legislative Assembly, told the Chamber magazine that it was vital that both Islands have more jobs, which he believes can be created with targeted marketing from the Department of Tourism in both local and international markets and by improving the air service to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
During a candidate forum on Cayman Brac last month, he said additional advertising may bring more tourists to the Sister Islands, but it was essential that enough seats were available on flights to accommodate them, as he believes there is not enough air lift provided by Cayman Airways to bring passengers to Cayman Brac. He said he would like to be the Cabinet minister responsible for Cayman Airways after the election “because I would make sure there are more seats in this market and we take advantage by creating more jobs.”
He wants to see more direct flights from the United States and more domestic flights between the three islands.
Mr. Kirkconnell also believes more jobs can be created locally, especially on the Brac, by diversifying the jobs market. This could be achieved by using the Island as a base for back-office work for the financial sector and for the government, such as for a call centre for Cayman Airways or as a bio-tech spin-off from Health City Cayman Islands, the Shetty hospital initiative.
“[The government] needs to make a commitment, that we look at Cayman Brac and Little Cayman as a business opportunity, that if we make it sustainable, then it is no longer a burden on government to sustain our economy,” he said.
Currently, the vast majority of jobs on Cayman Brac are government jobs, with about 90 per cent of the working population employed as civil servants.
On the issue of creating jobs in the tourism industry, Premier O’Connor-Connolly told the Chamber forum that more funding was needed to market and promote the Cayman Islands overseas, highlighting the unique aspects of each of the three islands. She also would like to see the next minister of tourism being from the Sister Islands so that the Brac and Little Cayman could be guaranteed adequate funding.
She would also like to see more direct flights from the US to the Sister Islands.
Premier O’Connor-Connolly said it was important to ensure that students on Cayman Brac continue to avail of the scholarships and training available to them, as education was a key component in nation building, add that the Brac’s high school produced some outstanding academic achievements.
“I have no fear that we have a very prepared workforce,” she said.
“Over 90 per cent of our workforce has to be employed with government,” said Premier O’Connor-Connolly. “For that to continue, we have to attract through economic incentives inward investment. We have to ensure that local business are encouraged sufficiently from an economic perspective that they can grow and expand. Obviously, business is based on supply and demand and with 2,200 persons on Cayman Brac… it’s very difficult to grow a business with that amount of persons,” she said.
She told the forum on 12 April that the government had been in talks with Dr. Devi Shetty about the possibility of creating a medical school on the Brac that may bring 200 students to the Island.
Ms Moore, running for the fifth time in the Sister Islands, agrees that job creation is one of the most pressing issues facing the district.
She also wants to see more direct flights to the Sister Islands and more airlines servicing the islands so that more people can take advantage of the tourism attractions – the diving and nature tourism – available on the Islands.
With more flights would come cheaper flights, she believes, thus attracting more people to the Islands. “Right now, we’re out-pricing ourselves internationally in tourism,” she said.
Ms Moore said that the practice on the Brac of re-employing civil servants three to six months after they retire was squeezing out school and college leavers from the opportunity of getting government jobs and vowed to work to ensure that young people on the island would be hired in local position.
She told the Chamber candidate forum that young job seekers were caught in a catch-22 situation whereby jobs were requiring candidates to have degrees and several years of experience, but those applying for the jobs could not gain experience because they were not being given a chance to fill those posts. “I feel in order to accommodate those people coming out of college… or high school, we must give them the opportunity to get that work experience and that work ethic,” she said.