Education and employment were hot topics Friday at the James Manoah Bodden Civic Center for candidates running in Bodden Town West.
Three of four candidates—Gilbert McLean (Independent), Chris Saunders (Independent) and Maxine Bodden Robinson (Progressives)—answered questions posed by Chamber of Commerce debate moderator Roz Griffiths, with each seeing themselves making a difference in issues affecting both the constituency and the country if elected in the May 2017 elections.
Cayman Democratic Party candidate Stafford Berry did not attend.
Ms. Griffiths asked the candidates, on behalf of an audience member, whether they supported combining expats and Caymanians in government schools.
All three candidates supported the idea.
Ms. Bodden Robinson said she would look for ways to integrate children of parents who are on work permits because it would add to the cultural breadth of Caymanian children.
Mr. Saunders said he would like to see the integration of the entire community, and “we need to change the overall system and look at it holistically, not just from the kids but from the parents … We have an opportunity to do it through government policy,” he said.
All the candidates agreed that unemployment is a major issue, not just facing Bodden Town, but the country on a whole.
Mr. Saunders said Cayman needs to address cheap labor issues and work permits.
Mr. McLean said the district needs more investment.
Ms. Griffiths asked the candidates whether they would support the establishment of a Human Resources Authority and remove the responsibility of issuing work permits from the Immigration Department.
“I have always believed that we have made an awkward mistake with having Immigration dealing with matters of employment and labor,” said Mr. McLean. “Let immigration deal with immigration matters in allowing people in the country … seeing them out and taking care of Cayman borders,” he said.
Ms. Bodden Robinson said employers should put more effort into hiring locally before filling vacancies with foreign labor.
Mr. Sanders did not think the problem could be fixed by a new government authority.
He said cheap foreign labour was causing work problems for Caymanians, and thought that politicians ought to put their foot down.
Mr. Sanders also expressed his desire to bring back a Caymanian protection board.
Ms. Griffiths asked whether the candidates would accept a ministerial position if elected.
Mr. McLean said he would, and his focus would be education, health and tourism. He said he had unfinished business from his former post as health minister.
Ms. Bodden Robinson highlighted the education portfolio and Mr. Saunders would accept posts in either agriculture, health or education.
On health issues, Mr. Saunders called for free healthcare for children and retirees.
Although CINICO was created when he was health minister, Mr. McLean said health insurance has not been functioning the way it should. He called for a single national health insurance fund for everyone.
Ms. Bodden Robinson said health insurance is an issue that needs addressing. She also suggested the establishment of a national health insurance system.
In conclusion, Mr. McLean said he was ready to get back on the political field and represent his district of Bodden Town West.
Ms. Bodden Robinson said she was ready to hit the ground running if elected.
Mr. Saunders said the people gave him an education and he was willing to use it.
“I can tell you what [Caymanians] do want is a government that they believe that is working for them, and what they do want is to feel represented, and that is my focus,” he said.