Premier Alden McLaughlin
As we clear away the torn wrapping paper, take down the decorations and swear to go on a diet after the indulgences of the Christmas season, the start of the New Year provides an opportunity for reflection.
It is a time to count our blessings, to thank God for his favor and to spare a thought and a good deed for those less fortunate than ourselves.
It is time for resolutions and to look forward to new opportunities and new beginnings.
2016 has been an eventful year and there is much upon which to reflect.
It was an Olympic year and we were all proud to see our delegates and athletes flying the Cayman flag on the world stage.
It was also a year in which as Premier I had the opportunity on the world stage at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London – to defend the position and the record of the Cayman Islands regarding international cooperation with respect to tax matters and our robust anti-corruption regime.
It was a year during which we were successful in having the UK better understand and agree on our approach to the exchange of beneficial ownership information in relation to Cayman Islands corporate entities. And in so doing continued our leadership in this critical area.
It was a year in which Cayman’s Minister of Finance was recognized internationally. This well-deserved award was both a reflection of the minister’s hard work and an acknowledgement that the government’s policies with respect to both government finances and the economy are succeeding.
It was a year when more Caymanians were employed at any time since 2007.
It was a year when the Cayman Islands government regained control of our budget and a year where the Cayman economy continued to improve, with growth exceeding projections.
It was an historic year regarding the passage of significant pieces of legislation.
The National Minimum Wage Law and a law permitting the use medical marijuana are two examples of such legislation. New legislation providing consumer protection was also passed to help ensure that key industry sectors, including the petroleum sector, are not only competitive in services and quality but also in pricing.
And this year also saw the signing of the renegotiated Dart/NRA Agreement. We now have a much improved agreement that truly benefits Cayman and the Dart corporation has committed to increased levels of development, including the widening of the Esterly Tibbetts Highway, which is currently underway.
And as the year was winding down Government, with the support of the community, rallied to purchase the property adjacent to Smith’s Barcadere to ensure that this precious piece of heritage beach can be enjoyed by Caymanians, residents and visitors in perpetuity.
So as 2016 ends there is much that as a Caymanian and as Premier I am grateful for and that brings me great satisfaction and hope for our future.
Our economy continues to improve with growing private sector confidence reflected by increased investment in Cayman.
As a Cayman Compass editorial recently noted, the improved economy is not the result of luck but is an indication that Cayman is moving from strength to strength. The editorial went on to note that Government policy and actions have played a vital role in supporting the private sector to grow the economy.
This Government has provided the stewardship that has encouraged that economic growth. The stability we have brought has helped renew confidence in businesses to invest and grow, a confidence that has been bolstered by restoring Government finances, creating surpluses, greatly reducing debt and reducing taxes where practical.
Indeed, over our last three budgets we have generated net surpluses totaling almost $400 million to be used to repay debt incurred by previous governments and to have something for a rainy day. We were also able to share the fruits of our labor with Caymanians through tax reductions and correcting inequalities in civil servants’ salaries to the tune of $30 million dollars a year. Effectively, this represents a $30 million annual economic stimulus.
In other words, we have been good and responsible custodians of the public purse and the economy.
A growing economy has helped to ensure that hundreds of Caymanians have found jobs. Unemployment amongst Caymanians has fallen from a high of 10.5% in 2012 to 5.6% in early 2016. This is the lowest Caymanian unemployment has been since 2007.
And so, compared to 2012, in 2016 there are over 1,000 more Caymanians employed in a growing economy. As the economy improves further in 2017 there will be more possibilities for other Caymanians seeking employment opportunities.
Financial Services is doing well and Tourism continues to grow with numbers not seen for a decade or more.
In 2015, with 1.72 million cruise visitors, we had the best cruise arrivals since 2006! That same year, with 385,000 air arrivals, we saw the best year for stay over tourism since 1999!
And as 2016 winds down we are poised to match or beat our 2015 numbers for both cruise and stay over tourism; proof positive that our tourism strategies are working for all our Islands.
The development sector is also performing well with many private sector projects of all sizes under construction or in the works.
Infrastructure works under way, including major roadworks and the airport expansion project, are also providing jobs and other opportunities for Caymanians.
But my colleagues and I know that despite these improvements there are still families finding it hard to make ends meet. And we pledge to continue our efforts in the remaining months of this term to ensure that every Caymanian willing and able to work has the opportunity to do so.
So heading into this New Year, and into an election season, I want to reassure you that your Government is on the right track. On all the main issues that matter to Caymanians, residents and investors, we are heading in the right direction. The proof is in our record of success and achievement.
A record that as I have said, includes restored investor confidence, record tourism numbers and good economic growth. Infrastructure development, improved job opportunities and the lowest Caymanian unemployment in almost a decade. Importantly our record also includes restored Government finances, greatly increased surpluses and reduced debt and taxes.
These are some of the success stories of the past 3.5 years that are helping improve the lives of Caymanians. But you can add to these:
- the introduction of a national minimum wage;
- the increase in the retirement age to 65 for the private and public sectors;
- resolving pay inequities in the civil service;
- commencing and progressing the long-awaited airport expansion;
- proceeding with plans for a cruise dock and larger port facility;
- developing and proceeding with the implementation of a national solid waste management plan;
- and at last plans are under way for a much needed mental health facility.
All of this is being done without any new debt or new taxes, which are strangling so many of our Caribbean neighbors. Proof indeed that this is a Government that cares and we are a country and a people that can get things done.
Our work is not yet over. As we wind down this term we intend to close out our final legislative session in 2017 with several key pieces of legislation, including a modern Legal Practitioners Law.
As we head into elections in May, should you decide to stay with the Progressives, we will build on the work we have done over the last four years to continue to bring hope and prosperity to these Islands and our people and our young people in particular.
This Progressives Government has shown that we understand what is needed to properly manage government finances, reduce taxation, reduce debt, and to put money aside for a rainy day. We have a proven record of accomplishment in this area and will continue this focus in a new administration in order to provide opportunities for each and every Caymanian who is desirous of sharing in the wealth that good stewardship provides.
We will increase the pace of work on the George Town Revitalisation program now that key bits of the initial phases are in place or nearing completion – including the roads and changes to zoning laws to encourage mixed-use buildings in the commercial areas of central George Town. We will also encourage increased private sector participation to stimulate a rebirth of our Capital to provide better living and working conditions for all.
We have done a lot of work these past few years in understanding how best to progress our education system and putting in place strategies and plans for success. We have also restarted the work on the John Gray High School and initiated several types of job training programs.
Job training and apprenticeships are key tools in the education and job preparation toolbox.
This includes the Cayman Islands School of Hospitality Studies that was started by this Government and is a fine example of private and public sector partnership.
It also includes programs such as Ready2WorkKY that is bringing hope to Caymanians and assisting them to get and keep jobs.
However, time is of the essence and a new Progressives Government will increase the pace of this work to provide our children with the quality education and the support needed to be successful in the 21st Century.
Given recent concerns about aspects of our immigration law, particularly those arising in the courts regarding permanent residency, we are working urgently to resolve the issues with the permanent residency points system that are creating difficulties. I expect to be able to say more about this early in the New Year.
We will continue to defend our financial services industry abroad, and to support it at home, to ensure that it remains a key part of our economy.
And with plans for new hotels and a new golf course and Palmer Lodge, coupled with a new Cayman Airways fleet, we will ensure that our stay over tourism remains vibrant. This includes sports and medical tourism.
Our expanded and modernized airport is under way and when completed will support increasing travel by visitors and residents alike. It will be an airport that Caymanians and residents can be even more proud of.
We will also continue work to complete a new cruise berthing and enhanced cargo facility whilst minimizing impact to the environment. But as we have seen this past year, without proper berthing facilities our environment, especially our reefs, will continue to be in danger of being damaged.
These facilities will help keep our reefs safe and ensure that Cayman can maintain a healthy cruise tourism sector as well as enabling our cargo port to accommodate the newer and larger cargo ships. All of these are vital to our economy long-term.
And with increasing economic activity Caymanians will benefit from the opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurships that will arise. And we will redouble our efforts to ensure that Caymanians have access to the available opportunities.
As we did in protecting the use and ambience of Smith’s Barcadere, we will continue to maintain a keen balance between needed development and protecting our environment and access to our beaches.
Internationally there are events in 2016 that will continue to spill over into the New Year.
In the United Kingdom we witnessed an historic Brexit referendum that set the scene for the UK to leave the European Union over the next few years.
In the United States we saw an unusual election campaign that has resulted in the election of Donald Trump as the incoming President.
The Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, continues to be a hotbed of war and terrorism that have led to immense human tragedy.
In Europe the arrival of millions of refugees coupled with the impact of terrorism, and sluggish economies have brought to the fore populist tensions that potentially threaten the long-term viability of the European Union.
And so at the start of 2017 the world is arguably a less certain place than it was one year ago.
Here at home we had our own challenges in 2016, including the recent spate of gang related shootings. These incidents are very concerning and have been so for over a decade.
I know that the Royal Cayman Island Police Service is working hard to apprehend those involved and Government will continue to support the Police in their efforts. Government can do its part and the RCIPS can seek to prevent and arrest.
But a response is needed by society as a whole, including our churches and civil society, if we are to keep our young men and women safe from the gang culture.
And I am certain that the policies and leadership of a Progressives government offer the best opportunity to help resolve our social ills. Our record in managing government finances so as to have resources to assist our people in need, in focusing on education; in growing the economy and jobs, and in supporting our security services all point to a government that puts people first.
I have said before that the best welfare program is a good job. And the best way to provide jobs is to have a buoyant economy that allows businesses to grow and create jobs. This is what we have done over this term.
So despite our social challenges I do believe that we have much to be thankful for.
The Cayman Islands is still one of the safest places to live and work and to raise a family. Though we live increasingly busy lives, we are still a caring community with many people and businesses helping those in need. And overall Cayman and Caymanians are in a much better position than we were four years ago.
So as we say goodbye to 2016 and look forward to a new year, I can say with gratitude that Cayman, by the Grace of God, is indeed blessed beyond measure. In an increasingly uncertain and dangerous world, the Cayman Islands continues to be one of the most desirable places in which to live, work, invest and visit. And we are poised to do even better in 2017 and beyond.
On behalf of government, I wish each of you and your families God’s richest blessings and a very Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.