Petty crime, traffic and jobs for Caymanians were among the big talking points as the three Prospect candidates faced off in the latest pre-election debate.
Independents Austin Harris and Matthew Leslie and the Progressives’ Lucille Seymour were quizzed on everything from the landfill plan to Cayman Airways by Chamber of Commerce Vice President Chris Kirkconnell.
Former radio talkshow host Mr. Harris called for the introduction of a neighborhood community security service to help deal with petty crime, which he said was a priority for people in the district.
He said neighborhood recruits, with “limited powers of arrest” could be used to supplement the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
He added, “Who better to protect our neighborhoods than those who live in them?”
Ms. Seymour proposed a similar concept of local security wardens governed by the district council. She said one of her goals as MLA for Prospect would be to revive the district council to deal with local issues, including traffic, which she highlighted as a key concern.
“Prospect is just about 10 minutes away from George Town but sometimes it takes an hour to get there,” she said, to nods of affirmation from many in the audience at Prospect Primary School.
She said wardens could be used to manage the flow of traffic from the many side streets that feed on to the main highway to help deal with the issue.
Mr. Leslie highlighted the high cost of living as his number one concern.
“Caymanians don’t want to be rich,” he said, “They just want to be able to live in their own country.”
He said prices had gone up while salaries had stayed stagnant and now many Caymanians, even those with a good education, were struggling to keep the lights and water on and put food on the table.
On the perennial issue of unemployment and underemployment, there was consensus among the candidates that a “moratorium on work permits,” suggested by other candidates, would be a step too far.
Mr. Harris said Cayman already had strong legislation to protect Caymanians in the workplace – “government just needs to enforce it.”
He said, “The political answer is ‘yeah, send them home,’ but it is not a practical idea when you consider we are in a global business and we have to be able to attract top talent.”
He said building up technical and vocational programs and tailoring training and education opportunities specifically to Cayman’s job market would help reduce the dependence on work permits and move unemployed people into positions currently occupied by expatriates.
Mr. Leslie said Caymanians were being discriminated against in the workplace and suggested businesses should make their staffing plans public and be held accountable for following it.
He said too many Caymanians were “stuck at ground level” while others prospered. He suggested merging the work permit process with the work of the Needs Assessment Unit and the National Workforce Development Agency to ensure Caymanians advanced.
Mr. Leslie repeatedly highlighted social issues, including poverty, as his number one concern, linking this to unemployment and crime.
“If we forget about those people hurting, people in need, they are going to remind us down the road and it may not be in a way that we want to be reminded,” he said.
On another recurring pre-election issue – the revitalization of George Town – both Mr. Harris and Ms. Seymour said the town center should become a pedestrian-only zone.
Mr. Harris said he believed the mistake of previous administrations was to link the revival of the capital to a cruise port.
Ms. Seymour suggested bringing arts, musicians and crafts to the town and possibly introducing a mayor to make George Town a priority.
“We killed our own city by going to Camana Bay,” she said. “We took our business from there and here it is now, dead as nails.
“My priority is to make sure the sea port of George Town lives, that you have vendors, small coffee shops; a real walking city.”