Unemployment, drugs hot topics in West Bay Central debate

More training opportunities for Caymanians and a community-based approach to helping drug addicts were two of the issues raised by political candidates in West Bay Central in a debate on Wednesday.

The district’s 1,056 voters have the choice between independent candidate Katherine Ebanks-Wilks and long-time member of the Legislative Assembly Captain Eugene Ebanks.

Ms. Ebanks-Wilks said she decided to run for political office in this election rather than at a later stage in her career, because “now is the time for change.”

The mother of two wants to use her independence from political parties to stop issues from becoming political footballs. “I want to get in the middle of the field to stop the football game,” she said.

Mr. Ebanks, a candidate with the Cayman Democratic Party, on the other hand, emphasized his political experience to support why he is running for a fifth term in the Legislative Assembly.

“I strongly believe that I have proven myself over the years,” he said.

Candidates’ top issues

His top issues in this campaign are unemployment and the housing shortage. Mr. Ebanks said, all too often there are reports of qualified Caymanians applying for a job and then a foreign national is filling the position with the same or fewer qualifications.

In return for the granting of work permits, he proposed, government should demand that larger law and accounting firms send qualified Caymanians to their overseas offices to gain the necessary experience.

“We need to protect our Caymanian people more in the workplace to give them equal opportunities,” he added.

Ms. Ebanks-Wilks agreed that unemployment is the main problem in the district. She said the representatives of private sector organizations she had spoken to, many of them Caymanians themselves, state that Caymanians often lack the necessary skills. “It is our responsibility to ensure that Caymanians are trained,” to put in place training programs by partnering, for example, with hotels and restaurants and then hold employers accountable so that Caymanians find long-term employment.

“There will be no reasons why they are not to be hired,” Ms. Ebanks-Wilks added.

To improve the necessary training and skills, she suggested expanding the Passport 2 Success program to Caymanians who are older than 23. On education, Ms. Ebanks believes the successful Cayman Islands Further Education Centre should offer a three-year program to establish a closer working relationship between students and employers. In addition, vocational training should be reintroduced in the public school system.

Drugs

Responding to audience questions on drug abuse, the candidates noted the issue is tied to unemployment and could not be solved by government alone.

Driving through some parts of West Bay, Ms. Ebanks-Wilks said she sees many people she went to school with who are on drugs, a lot of them frustrated and without hope, or with other underlying issues. “It hurts,” she said.

“We need to find ways that we as a community support those individuals rather than passing them by in the street.”

Ms. Ebanks-Wilks argued that government is not able to fix every issue. Rather than relying on government for everything, “we need to come back to the Cayman that we used to be,” she said.

“We say ‘Cayman kind’ but I am not so sure that we are ‘Cayman kind’ anymore. We need to find that ‘Cayman kind’ and embrace it.”

Mr. Ebanks believes that unemployment is to blame for much of the drug abuse. He emphasized that the community cannot close the door on drug addicts and must find ways to rehabilitate them.

“We have to get these people employed and get them to lead constructive lives,” he said, adding that drug abuse is a major, islandwide scourge that creates a huge burden for the judicial system and government.

To combat the supply of drugs, Mr. Ebanks suggested the most effective way would be to install radar stations, including on the Western side of Grand Cayman, where most of the drugs come in.

Both candidates favored a return to community policing and more police foot patrols to improve the public’s trust in the police.

Economic development

In terms of the broader economic development of the islands, Ms. Ebanks-Wilks said, she is in favor of new hotel developments and stated growth is needed for the country to flourish. She said the economy and population have grown so rapidly that long-term plans are needed to deal with more infrastructure requirements such as schools, roads and housing, as well as the future burden for pension and healthcare from a growing number of Caymanians.

Mr. Ebanks said Cayman is privileged to have large private sector investments. Further investment should be backed by “not smothering developers in red tape” while at the same time preserving the natural environment. Mr. Ebanks supports the expansion of the airport and the construction of a cruise pier in George Town. He wants to see the Cayman Turtle Center expanded.

“If we intend to stay in the tourism business, we have to put infrastructure in place,” he said. The funding for the projects would come from public-private partnerships and fees from the pier and the airport.

Ms. Ebanks-Wilks, in turn, does not support the expansion of the Turtle Center because it is losing money, but she believes it should be maintained in its current form, not least because many Caymanians rely on it.

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