Former government backbencher Winston Connolly was among the most vocal critics of the Progressive administration’s final budget, calling out his former colleagues for attempting to claim credit for economic successes which were not their own.
Mr. Connolly suggested the economy was not doing as well as government ministers had indicated, saying population growth was masking sluggish economic performance, and that the main successes that could be verified were either down to good fortune or the policies of the previous government.
“While the government has repeatedly praised its own performance on the economy and described economic growth since it took office as ‘tremendous’ and ‘sustainable,’ the facts reveal that economic growth during this administration has in fact been neither tremendous nor sustainable, nor indeed even attributable to this administration,” said the independent legislator for George Town, who left the government to sit on the opposition benches in January.
Though gross domestic product overall has increased over the past three years, Mr. Connolly argues that a sharper rise in population means Cayman is actually losing ground economically.
“This should not be mistaken for an argument against population growth, which it is not. It is an argument against anemic economic growth. It may be that the parts of the economy stimulated by the growth in population hide a steep decline in the rest of the economy,” he said in his budget statement.
He also questioned the influence the current government had on the growth that had taken place.
“What modest economic growth we have seen in recent years can be attributed entirely to a small number of projects that all began under the previous administration: Health City, Camana Bay, the Kimpton Seafire and Cayman Enterprise City.
“Arguably, the only contribution this administration made to those projects was to spend several years frustrating them by attempting to renegotiate legally binding agreements signed by the previous governments,” he said.
More targeted growth
Mr. Connolly argued for more targeted growth, suggesting that many Caymanians were not interested in jobs in the hospitality and construction industries.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests most Caymanians would prefer to work in skilled administrative or financial services jobs rather than in construction or tourism. Caymanians represent a minority of the workforce in both industries. Is there any reason to believe that creating more tourism and construction jobs will really ‘improve opportunities for Caymanians?’”
He said economic growth driven by continued development and rising tourism figures is unlikely to be sustainable or desirable over time.
“This is not to say these projects are not good for the economy. The point is that they are not enough. They do not represent sustainable growth. And they are not creating the types of employment opportunities most of us want for our children, opportunities that build a strong Caymanian middle class,” he added.
Mr. Connolly also ridiculed government ministers’ claims that “investor confidence” was returning to the Cayman Islands, saying there was no evidence to support the theory.
“If all of the major developments currently under way are in fact vestiges of the previous administration, and not a single new company of any note has established a presence here in Cayman since May 2013 – at least outside of CEC – then if anything, the evidence points to an absence of investor confidence.”
Right place at the right time
He acknowledged that the Progressives had made progress in restoring equilibrium to the islands’ finances, but said this was down to being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of unforeseen and unbudgeted revenue increases, such as higher stamp duty revenues, rather than any policy initiatives to raise money or reduce spending.
Mr. Connolly was elected as an independent legislator with the backing of the Coalition for Cayman. He joined the government as a backbencher and counselor for education but quit in January, saying he felt he could better serve the people if he was out of the Progressives caucus.
Though he cited “differences” with the administration in his 2015 budget speech a year ago, Mr. Connolly was much more supportive of the Progressives when a member of the government, saying he was working as part of the team to improve the economy.
“I stand here proud to be a part of this government that can bring economic growth and can focus on jobs and prosperity for these islands, and one that has the recovery of the Cayman Islands in sight,” he said at that time.
His comments about the previous administration were also less complimentary.
“I believe that some of the ills we now face are a direct result of bad decisions by the last administration and also at a time when that administration was in power before,” he said.