Permanent residence applications, an emergency response center, education and gay rights were some of the topics facing Bodden Town East candidates at a candidates forum arranged by the Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday.
A huge crowd turned out at the James Manoah Bodden Civic Center to hear from candidates Dwayne “John John” Seymour (Independent), MLA Osbourne Bodden (Progressive), Arnold Berry (Independent) and Robert Bodden (Cayman Democratic Party).
All four candidates agreed that permanent applications should be processed in a timely manner so people know their status.
Currently there are more than 900 stalled applications.
Mr. Berry said it was “keeping people’s lives in limbo.” Osbourne Bodden and Mr. Seymour agreed that if they didn’t qualify, they should be told.
Robert Bodden was not present for this segment of the forum.
Gay rights has been a topic of much debate in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Berry, Mr. Seymour and Robert Bodden said the topic should be put to a referendum.
Mr. Seymour said, “Who is gay? No one knows who is gay. It’s everyone’s right to choose whatever lifestyle they want.”
Osbourne Bodden said the Constitution calls for equal rights in terms of individuals, but it does not call for the legalization of gay marriage. “Gay people, like straight people, are people. We know them as friends, as family and they are very capable,” Mr. Bodden said, adding, “We are not judge and jury to decide on someone’s future.”
Mr. Berry said, “They also have a valuable contribution and we should respect their lifestyle once they are not flaunting it in public.”
Robert Bodden asked if international trends were impacting the debate in Cayman. “We come from a Christian background. We had gays among us … when we were growing up, but they did not force their ideas on us and they were accepted and loved.”
Emergency Response Centre
The Bodden Town Emergency Response Centre, which has been stalled since its ground-breaking six years ago, was also a topic of discussion.
Osbourne Bodden said the facility is badly needed. He said the reason it was not completed in the last term was because of a lack of resources and an economic downturn. He promised to put the center on his agenda if he is re-elected.
Mr. Berry said it would be one of his first projects to be completed.
Robert Bodden questioned whether Bodden Town is the best place for the Emergency Centre, suggesting it is needed more in North Side and East End. “Rather than having a huge emergency center, I see a need for a marine response unit somewhere in Bodden Town,” he said.
Mr. Seymour drew a reaction from the crowd when he said, “There are too many excuses from this government in terms of reasons why projects couldn’t get done.”
He said foreclosures, unemployment, social needs and capital for small businesses are important issues.
Youth and employment
Robert Bodden said he would continue to work with the district’s youth in skills development and promoting more cultural activities. Going forward, he is looking at a facility for youth.
Mr. Seymour said he has done a lot for youth. He said he stayed on the football club for more than 30 years. He said entertainment and basketball programs are part of his agenda, as well as youth employment and taking care of the elderly.
Osbourne Bodden said he supported young people in many ways as Minister of Youth Services. “My colleague thinks he’s done more, but we’ll settle that later,” Mr. Bodden joked.
Mr. Bodden said he had brought back Youth Parliament and provided sporting facilities. He supported elderly committees, he said.
Mr. Berry said he assisted Savannah Primary School and youths. Going forward, he recommends establishing an advisory district council.
Finding a way to retain Caymanian teachers so they do not leave the public school system was deemed an important issue by candidates.
Osbourne Bodden said a solution must be found to retain teachers. It hurts the system when they move on, Mr. Bodden said, adding that good teachers are brought to the island, but Caymanian teachers are the best for Caymanian children.
Mr. Berry said wages had to be considered and every avenue explored to ensure more teachers stay. He encouraged more Caymanians to take up teaching.
Robert Bodden said politics needs to be taken out of the teaching profession.
Mr. Seymour said we need to listen to teachers, parents and children. He said wages for teachers are not the main issue.
Caymanians in the general workforce was also discussed, with the candidates agreeing that professional advancement needs to be addressed.
Mr. Berry said Caymanians need to be given a fair chance.
Robert Bodden said there should be more upward mobility.
Mr. Seymour said companies should be consulted as to why Caymanians were not progressing. The audience clapped loudly when Mr. Seymour said he would put a “freeze on work permits.”
In the closing arguments, candidates highlighted issues they would address if elected.
Robert Bodden said Bodden Town is in dire straits. He cited the issues of minimum wage, healthcare, traffic congestion and crime. He proposed term limits for parliamentarians.
“Go in, get the job done and get out,” he said.
Mr. Seymour promised that Caymanians would no longer feel like second-class citizens and small business owners would no longer feel uncared for. “I am here for the regular and common man of this country,” he said.
Mr. Berry said, “Employment for Caymanians will be a priority for me. On day one, in regard to permits, I would put a freeze on work permits until the 2,000-plus-something Caymanians are employed and given an opportunity to be employed.”
He cited other issues, such as cost of living, zero tolerance on crime, district improvements, concessions to small businesses, immigration reform and agriculture.
Osbourne Bodden concluded that it had been an energetic forum and a lot of good things were said. He said he worked hard as a minister for almost four years, representing the district at a national and local level.
“Cayman has changed. Cayman needs leaders that understands not only local politics … but also on an international level,” he said.
Chamber President Kyle Broadhurst thanked the four candidates for participating. He said their answers were intelligent and thoughtful.
A forum for the Prospect electoral district will take place Wednesday at Prospect Primary School Hall from 7-9 p.m. Candidates Matthew Leslie, Austin Harris and Lucille Seymour will attend.