Premier Alden McLaughlin admonished legislators for anti-business, anti-expat rhetoric that he warned risked hurting the island’s economy.
The premier supported an amended version of a private members’ motion from backbencher Winston Connolly, who called for changes to business licensing laws to encourage training, development and ownership opportunities for Caymanians.
But Mr. McLaughlin publicly distanced himself and his government from rhetoric from some legislators in a lengthy parliamentary debate that ran till midnight on Monday.
He said, “I support the motion but I could not sit quietly and let people believe that I subscribe to that anti-expat, anti-business sentiment espoused by some members of this house, because I do not. I will not allow the government, which I have the honor and privilege to lead, to be branded with that.”
Mr. Connolly’s original motion, which called for an end to all exemptions to the Trade and Business Licensing Law and Local Companies (Control) Law, was amended pre-debate to a more general request that government consider strengthening and enforcing legislation to allow Caymanians to progress up the career ladder in all industries, including to ownership positions.
Mr. McLaughlin said government would not have supported the original motion. “It would, in effect, amount to expropriation of assets of shareholders in various businesses, including banks and trust companies, insurance companies and the like,” he said.
While acknowledging that some tweaks to the law were needed, he said, “Some of the rhetoric expounded over the course of this debate is of great concern. I’ve no doubt it will also be of grave concern to the business community and the broader community.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the world economic recovery and Cayman’s own recovery were fragile.
“The last thing we want is to send the signal that foreign business and foreigners and anyone who was not born here to Cayman parents are unwelcome.”
He urged legislators not to assist in creating an environment where businesses felt unwelcome, warning that they could uproot and go elsewhere, as they had done in other countries in the region.
The members still present in the Assembly as the debate came to a close, voted unanimously to approve the motion, which read: “Be it therefore resolved that the Government considers amendments to business licensing laws with a view to removing restrictions to employment, training, development and ownership opportunities for Caymanians and be it further resolved that Government consider enforcing existing laws, regulations and policies and utilizes immigration accreditation programs more fully to hold business more accountable as well as to reward and acknowledge those business[es] that hire, train and promote Caymanians through various levels including ownership positions.”
Mr. Connolly opened the debate Monday calling for an end to exemptions in business licensing legislation, which he said essentially allowed some firms to opt out of offering advancement and pathways to ownership for Caymanians. He said Caymanians were, in effect, being prevented from getting to the top in the best paying professions in the country.
Several legislators weighed in on more general issues about employment and immigration.
North Side independent legislator Ezzard Miller repeated claims that a revolution was possible in Cayman, suggesting a peaceful Martin Luther King-style figure that ensured we “keep the status quo but Caymanians get a part of it” would be preferable to a Malcolm X figure that decided Caymanians were not getting anything, so they would “mash it up anyway.”
He said Caymanians had for too long been “scared” to stand up to foreign-owned businesses for fears that they might leave. “If there was anywhere else for them to go, they wouldn’t come here in the first place. Certainly, after they come here and invest and set up shop, they ain’t gonna leave in a hurry.”
Arden McLean, independent legislator for East End, questioned why it had taken a “young Turk” like Mr. Connolly to bring a private members’ motion for the issue to be considered. He criticized other legislators for making pleas to industry to give jobs and opportunities to Caymanians, saying instead government should enforce existing laws. “The time for prayers is over, the time for begging is over,” he said.
Editor’s Note: A story in Tuesday’s Cayman Compass incorrectly referred to the details of the original motion filed by Mr. Connolly, not the amended version that was debated and approved on Monday.