In a 40-minute Saturday-night address, Cayman Democratic Party leader McKeeva Bush outlined an ambitious eight-point action plan for his first “10 to 100 days” if elected in May.
Speaking to attendees at the Lions Centre, Mr. Bush, who earlier garnered 181 votes in an audience poll for party leader, beating the four votes of his nearest competitor, Bodden Town East candidate Robert Bodden, called the vote a “confirmation.”
Mr. Bush said within his first 100 days, “we have got to take care of our seniors,” promising nearly to double government’s $550 monthly aid for the elderly “to at least $1,000.”
“Seniors cannot live on $550,” he said to cheers and whistles.
He promised to “restructure mortgages,” and expressed doubt about official statistics, claiming the administration was “just filling up numbers, but I know at least three [homeowners] per week are coming to my doorstep.”
He said his party’s efforts during its 2013-2017 tenure as government had produced “87 homes in four years” for low- and middle-income families, contrasting the current Progressives record: “They have built nada,” he charged, “and now they’ve hired a consultant to tell them what to do.”
He vowed to “stop the pension madness,” saying 20 years ago when he “put [the system] in place, we knew that it had to be revamped.” Government’s failure to act in the past four years, however, had cost the country “over $200 million,” especially at mandated interest rates between 4 percent and 5 percent, he said.
He rejected objections that expatriate employees had threatened the solvency of Cayman’s pension funds by taking money out of the country. Challenging public sentiment, he told the audience, “You say there should be no Jamaicans, no Filipinos, no Santo Domingans, but it’s their money. Give it to them.”
“We have to revamp the pensions law and make it work, but we also have to live with other people,” he added.
He said he had previously granted $11 million in concessions to the Cayman Islands Development Bank – “I used it to help small businesses,” – and had reduced import fees on construction materials by 50 percent.
“When I left [office], I left a surplus of $80 million,” he said.
In late 2014, Finance Minister Marco Archer said he would pay off early the bank’s $10 million debt and seek to refinance its $30 million loans.
“We have had no leadership to make health policy work,” Mr. Bush charged. “We put in [a policy] in 2012, and now not one thing has been done. We have to fix health services immediately, and we have to fix health insurance.”
He was scathing about environmental protections, accusing the 12-member National Conservation Council – founded in September 2013 – “of wanting to save lizards and pets.”
“The NCC are telling people they can’t do what they want with their land,” he added.
Mr. Bush addressed politically delicate immigration laws, saying he would change them because “they are no help for you or for small businesses.
“Why don’t they want you to see the report,” he asked, alluding to Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s April 3 refusal to release the $312,000 Progressives government-commissioned Ritch Report, examining the legalities of the four-year delay in adjudicating more than 900 Permanent Residency applications from non-Caymanians.
Mr. Bush also called for expansion of the Cadet Corps to “augment the police service.”
“There are thousands of young people who could benefit” from an expanded corps, he said, suggesting it could form the genesis of a “National Defense Force,” aiding border protection and combatting importation of drugs and guns.
Mr. Bush said Cayman needed “at least three community centers – at least two in Bodden Town and one in East End and North Side.”
He said the centers would open after hours in local schools. “We will put in place a program of community development, but we are doing nothing new. We will use what we have already put in place,” and suggested a trade and vocational school. “We have the facilities, we just need the programs.”
Former Children and Family Services officer Michael Myles also spoke on Saturday, describing social deterioration spurred by broken homes, a spiral of despair, a struggling educational system and woeful government inaction.
Party Chair Theresa Bodden called for protection of small businesses, financial services, tourism and agriculture, and the launch of aquaculture, while president of the Young CDP King Navassa called for promotion of arts and culture.
Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton also spoke, congratulating Cayman on its prosperity and record of “collaboration.” American economic adviser Donald House called for creation of a Cayman-based regional center for surveillance and interdiction of drugs, and an academic institute for free-market principles.