Police accountability and crime opened the first Cayman Islands national debate ahead of the May 24 election.
Five East End and North Side candidates took the stage at the Camana Bay Arts and Recreation Center to address a public audience of approximately the same size.
While no more than five people, excluding media, attended the debate in person, more than 2,000 tuned in to the live Facebook broadcast.
Incumbent independent candidate Ezzard Miller called for more police presence in his district of North Side. He said attempts to improve accountability and attach stipulations to the police budget have failed.
“The police need the resources but we must have a mechanism to check if they are delivering,” Mr. Miller said.
Progressive North Side candidate Ed Chisholm suggested getting officers on bicycles to ride around the district and speak with local residents as a community-building effort.
Independent East End candidate John McLean Jr. echoed the call for greater monitoring of police performance.
He proposed establishing a police academy for local officers to ensure proper training.
East End incumbent Arden McLean attributed law enforcement problems to decreased police budgets and diversion of funds by government to other “grandiose schemes.”
Mr. McLean did not think crime rates have had a negative effect on tourism.
“Tourists still believe we are relatively safe but it’s coming to that point where we need to address the matter,” Mr. McLean said.
North Side independent candidate Justin Ebanks added that with high prices in the Cayman Islands, safety must continue to be an incentive for tourists.
Mr. Chisholm warned that with the influence of technology, crime news spreads fast and can have a rapid impact on the islands’ tourism product.
He repeated calls by Mr. Miller and Mr. Ebanks to improve funding and resources for the Joint Marine Unit to promote safety. Mr. Chisholm said the marine patrol boats are often in the shop, preventing greater control of gun trafficking.
Mr. Ebanks proposed getting more marine boats in the water to address the unit’s myriad responsibilities, including border patrol, and search and rescue.
The crime debate fed into a larger discussion about Caymanian employment opportunities. Mr. McLean, Jr. suggested unemployment is a driver behind delinquency.
“The police is one issue but the crimes stem from unemployment. If we tackle that, that would address crime,” he said.
Both Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean said a problem with employment in the hospitality industry is lack of economic benefit to Caymanians.
“We get trickle down when people go to restaurants but the ordinary worker does not get that trickle-down effect because we have not promoted that enough,” Mr. McLean said.
He proposed removing work permit responsibilities from the Department of Immigration and transferring them to a government labor department that would determine the need for foreign labor.
“We need a database where people who want labor go. That department would determine if there is no local labor available,” Mr. McLean said.
He further suggested putting a “moratorium” on certain work permit categories until government is satisfied that enough Caymanians have been employed in those jobs.
Mr. Miller said Caymanian workers are often asked to have greater credentials than foreign labor.
“Every job in the Cayman Islands belongs to a Caymanian. End of story. A work permit is the exception to the rule,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Chisholm supported establishing a vocational school to provide greater professional opportunities to locals.
“We need to make sure there is something on island that provides an alternative to people not looking to go into banking,” he said.
Mr. McLean and Mr. Miller both opposed the idea of a vocational school, saying the costs would outweigh the benefits. They instead supported dedicating funds for full scholarships to send university students off island to study.
Mr. Ebanks opposed the idea of investing in off-island education, saying the option would not be realistic for many families. “We need to stop investing overseas in our people. We need to keep the revenue in the country,” he said.
The next national debate is scheduled for April 25. Six national debates are being organized by Cayman 27, while the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce is hosting 19 district forums.