Sharp differences in policy regarding waste management and the proposed cruise ship berthing facility punctuated the George Town North candidate forum on Tuesday night.
Two of the three candidates in the district – independent Karin Thompson and the Progressives’ Joey Hew – aired their differences at the Arts and Recreation Centre in a forum presented by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce. The third candidate, Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden of the Cayman Democratic Party, was invited but did not participate.
The first issue presented, the future of waste management facilities in George Town, brought out the first difference in policy. Mr. Hew, who currently serves as a councilor in the government’s Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, favors remediating the landfill.
Mr. Hew said government has made plans for a state-of-the-art recycling and waste-to-energy facility that will reduce incoming waste to the landfill by up to 95 percent, and he said it’s important to keep the future facility near the current landfill for reasons of practicality.
“One of the key reasons why we would want to keep it in that area is we’ve already established that area as a collection point,” he said. “The consumers for the energy produced in the waste-energy plant are right there in the general vicinity. And that’s important that we can transport the energy and be able to sell the energy created there at the facility. I do support the facility remaining where it is.”
Ms. Thompson offered a stark contrast, referring to the landfill as an “ungodly sight.” She said plans to remedy the current facility have been in the works since 1992, but none of them has come to fruition, and it’s time for government to try a different approach.
“With the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time, I must say it’s my view … that we have passed the stage of effective and sustainable remediation. I am in favor of having the landfill removed and placed elsewhere,” she said. “I have no wish to encroach upon the good people of Bodden Town, but this is what I have to say tonight: If I have my say, if I have my way, no more dumping in our backyard.”
The candidates agreed on education, saying that it is important to focus on students in primary schools, and they both think it is vital to focus more police resources in their district.
However, they had very different ideas regarding the future of the cruise ship industry along the waterfront.
Mr. Hew said he supports a cruise berthing facility and the expansion of the cargo port. He said studies have shown that there will be consequences if the government does not act. The cruise ships currently bring 1.7 million tourists a year, he said, and that number could drop to 1 million without a new facility.
Furthermore, he said, the cost could be defrayed by partnering with the cruise lines themselves.
“We have proposed a financial model where several of the cruise[lines] have a stake in the building of the piers,” said Mr. Hew. “The way they will get their money back is by the replacement of the tendering fees with the berthing fees. And the berthing fees will then pay the cruise[lines] back. It ties them in for the next 15 to 20 years, and if they do not use the piers, they do not get their money back.”
Ms. Thompson countered by saying that the natural environment of Seven Mile Beach is too precious to the people of the Cayman Islands and to tourism to risk ruining it with increased development. Because of that, she said, she cannot support a new berthing facility or expansion of the cargo port.
“I have the benefit of watching those ships anchor. In my sleep, I actually hear the chains as they’re lowered,” she said. “Next to our people … our pristine waters, our environment, our sea life is exactly what has brought the bread and butter to the tables of thousands of our people.”
Neither candidate was in favor of legalizing casinos on Grand Cayman, and they both hoped that any mass exodus of foreign workers due to pension law could be alleviated by domestic workers. But Ms. Thompson and Mr. Hew differed on how the changes in law will affect foreign workers in Cayman.
“I honestly believe that when they leave, they’re entitled to take whatever they have left behind,” said Ms. Thompson of the recent changes in pension law. “I also hope that the mass exodus that is envisaged will not necessarily become a reality. But you can’t close the cage after the lion is out.”
“Pensions are crucial to our financial independence and retirement,” countered Mr. Hew. “The truth is the longer the funds remain invested collectively, the better the returns are for all of us. … We have to make these changes as we go along to be able to mature it and grow the pension as our population grows to ensure financial independence for everyone in the Cayman Islands once they retire.”