West Bay South candidates faced off Monday evening on economic development, education and foreign employment during the latest Chamber of Commerce candidate forum.
Cayman Democratic Party candidate John Jefferson Jr. and independents Tara Rivers, Laura Young and Burns Rankin answered two hours of questions from the Chamber and the public at John Gray Memorial Church.
Debate opened with discussion of a five-star resort proposed for West Bay South by Dart, one of the evening’s sponsors.
Chamber of Commerce moderator Chris Kirkconnell said the resort would include 225 rooms and 80 residences. An economic impact study indicates the project would contribute $600 million to the economy during its five-year development and create 1,250 jobs once complete, Mr. Kirkconnell said.
Incumbent candidate Ms. Rivers said she would support the project, but only after an environmental impact assessment has been completed.
“I would not support any initiative that would cut off the nose to spite the face,” she said.
She emphasized that the project should prioritize Caymanian employment, a theme that was repeated throughout the night.
Ms. Young said she supports the project, under the condition that Caymanians would be the primary beneficiaries.
Mr. Rankin and Mr. Jefferson echoed the call to give Caymanians priority for employment in such a project.
“When that hotel is finished, I want to see Caymanians opening those doors, not people from another jurisdiction. I have nothing against them. I’d like to know the labor minister here has something in place so that when the hotel opens, local Caymanians get first preference, then work permit holders,” Mr. Rankin said.
On the topic of public safety, the West Bay Police Station was described by several candidates as “deplorable” and in need of additional funding to improve conditions.
Community policing received the greatest scrutiny, criticized by Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Rankin and Ms. Rivers for lack of friendliness and community connection.
All of the candidates supported increasing foot patrols along Seven Mile Beach and West Bay Road.
Mr. Jefferson said foot patrols could boost public confidence in police, as well as reduce drug sales and other illicit activity in tourist areas.
“The people don’t trust the police. They drive by in their air-conditioned cars,” Mr. Jefferson said. “They don’t spend much time here.”
Mr. Rankin said an issue with the police force is the use of foreign officers. He called for a police academy, focused on local talent and more intensive training.
“We have an international police force. Some people can’t speak our language. Some don’t care. It’s just a job,” he said.
He repeated the same criticism of Cayman’s teachers, indicating that foreign teachers do not provide the same care for local children as Caymanian teachers.
“Most teachers here today are here for rum, sun and fun,” he said.
However, teachers were among the few professionals he thought should have access to earning Caymanian status, alongside doctors.
Regarding other work permit holders, he said, “We never promised you Caymanian status. We promised a job for seven years and that’s all I would give you.” Mr. Rankin stood alone in opposition to a public-private partnership to collaborate on education.
Mr. Jefferson described the current education system as in crisis. He supported the idea of a public-private partnerships as an alternative to the status quo.
“There are too many Caymanians that cannot afford to send their children to private schools, so you have to have a public education system that works. At the present time, it isn’t working,” he said.
Ms. Rivers said as education minister she has supported such partnerships. She said any decisions made for schools must be data driven and evidence based.
Regarding construction of a cruise berthing facility, Ms. Rivers said Cayman must take on such development if the country intends to keep pace with the tourism industry.
“To say we are unsure or ambivalent is not a position we can afford to take as government,” she said.
Ms. Young and Mr. Rankin supported building the facility in Spotts or Red Bay, rather than in George Town.
On the Pensions Law, Ms. Rivers opposed Mr. Jefferson’s suggestion that foreign workers should be able to take a check with them when they leave the islands. She said this idea goes against the concept of a pension.
“Everybody that understands the principle of a pension understands that pensions are for retirement and retirement is wherever you are. Those persons can get that money in a lump sum upon retirement or they can get payments from the Cayman Islands however they choose,” she said.
Mr. Rankin disagreed with investing pension funds abroad and said such money should be kept local.
“That money could be invested here in the Cayman Islands Development Bank for small business or a national housing corporation that could be earning money,” he said.