The three political hopefuls for Red Bay district in eastern George Town have widely varied spending priorities should they get elected on May 24.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, former government Minister Frank McField and political newcomer Denniston Tibbetts participated in a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate Wednesday night at Mary Miller Hall. Each man was asked what the top “two or three” spending priorities would be if they were to be elected.
Mr. Tibbetts, a Cayman Democratic Party candidate, called it a “difficult question” given that government budgets are not easy to decipher looking from the outside in.
“We need to spend more money where it matters,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “We’ve done reports and environmental studies for, let’s say, the [cruise ship] dock … we’ve spent $1 million getting reports and the dock is still not done.”
Mr. Tibbetts said investment in education comes first, as far as he’s concerned. He told the audience of about 40-50 people on Wednesday night that his daughter, who is a teacher, had to return to the U.S. to work because the Cayman school system was simply too frustrating.
“Children are graduating who can’t read and write …. Whose fault is that? It’s the government,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “[Education Minister] Tara [Rivers], she just goes around taking pictures, as far as I’m concerned.”
Independent candidate Frank McField said the education difficulties Cayman experienced were just one example of the territory’s failure to invest in “human capital” – which he said would be his first priority.
“We’ve seen this sort of error in the development of the Clifton Hunter High School … the John Gray School … we’re thinking about buildings, but we’re not thinking about teachers,” Mr. McField said. “If we spent $200 million on school buildings, what have we spent on teachers, what have we spent on the broken families children are coming from?
“We have first-world buildings … but yet we have third-world education. Isn’t that sort of a little bit ridiculous?”
Premier McLaughlin said his two major spending priorities, if he should be elected for a second term, would be the development of a cruise and cargo port in George Town and the continued work on the remediation of the George Town landfill.
Mr. McLaughlin said the new port project, which has been a lodestone for several governments over the past 15 years, is critical to Cayman’s economy. Without an adequate, modern port, Mr. McLaughlin said: “Much of what my colleagues are complaining about and say they’re going to fix would not be possible.
“Without supporting the industries from which we derive this revenue … none of the things we want to do will ever be possible.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the landfill remediation, estimated to cost more than $500 million over a 25-year period, is also critical to Cayman’s continued economic development.
The premier said the government’s proposal to pay for the cruise port development would require the cruise ship companies to guarantee the islands a certain “minimum throughput” of passengers. Those passengers would pay a per head tax that would be used to fund the port development, he said.
Mr. Tibbetts, as he did several times during Wednesday’s debate, questioned the veracity of the budget plans and figures coming from the Progressives-led administration on the cruise port.
“We don’t know the true facts of the government budget,” he said.