Caymanians are being prevented from getting to the top in the best paying professions in the country, MLA Winston Connolly claimed as he proposed changes to legislation governing business in the territory.
Mr. Connolly put forward a private members’ motion in the Legislative Assembly on Monday requesting that government consider removing exemptions from the Trade and Business Law and the Local Companies (Control) Law.
The changes, he said, would aid capable Caymanians in getting top jobs and progressing to ownership in the most lucrative professions in the country. Law firms and some financial services firms are among those currently regulated under different legislation.
The Trade and Business Law currently stipulates that any company doing business in the Cayman Islands must be at least 60 percent Cayman owned and operated. The Local Companies (Control) Law allows exemptions to that under certain circumstances, for example when significant capital or expertise that cannot be found on the island is required.
Companies, such as The Ritz-Carlton hotel, have been granted exemptions under the LCCL, which are assessed on a case-by-case basis and can carry conditions, including requirements to train Caymanians and progress them up the ladder at the company.
The George Town legislator did not explain, in detail, the exemptions that he is targeting through his motion, though it appears to be aimed at companies that currently do not fall within the ambit of those two pieces of legislation.
Mr. Connolly said it did not make sense to exclude some companies, including law firms, from the oversight of the Trade and Business and Local Companies (Control) Laws.
“How can we as a government look at the highest paying jobs in the land and say we don’t need Caymanian participation for those jobs when we have a plethora of highly educated Caymanians that should be taking their rightful spots besides those that came here,” he said.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass during a break in proceedings, Mr. Connolly clarified that he was not calling for an end to exemptions to the 60-40 local ownership provision, provided companies met the criteria of the LCCL.
But he said all businesses should be at least required to go through the process of applying for an exemption through the Local Companies Control Law and be required to meet the provisions for Caymanian training and advancement stipulated in that law.
He acknowledged, in his speech to the Legislative Assembly, that companies had made progress in terms of offering scholarships and entry-level opportunities. But he said not enough Caymanians were being given the experience and opportunity to progress to be equity partners in big firms.
He said his vision was for Caymanians to be in the majority in the upper echelons of society.
“No parent wants to tell their children they can get halfway up the ladder but [for] the top echelon, you don’t have the right experience or the right educational background, you don’t speak the right way,” he said.
Since filing the motion, Mr. Connolly said he had received requests from the private sector to clarify its intent but had declined to respond. He said if they did not know what he was talking about, he didn’t have time to tell them.
Mr. Connolly said the legislators had a duty to ensure there was no job in the territory that hard-working Caymanians could not aspire to and have a fair shot at getting.
Minister for Commerce Wayne Panton said government would support the motion and was looking at some changes to the Trade and Business Law and the Local Companies (Control) Law to deal with some of the issues highlighted.
But he said removing all exemptions to the local ownership rules did not make sense.
“For some of those businesses, it would be very difficult to operate here or to set up in the Cayman Islands without those exemptions. Some of them are international entities, some of them are publicly owned, but there are some that have historically been a cause for concern and are at the root of some of the complaints and issues we are having now.”
He said government wanted to do everything it could to encourage Caymanian ownership and promotion.
But he added, “We have to have a perspective in which businesses are also enabled to operate successfully and have the staff they need. If they can’t succeed in this country, in this economy, then the country fails.”
Legislators were still debating the motion at press time Monday.