With the next four years being his last term as the leader of the territory’s government, Premier Alden McLaughlin said on Wednesday in the Legislative Assembly that he “will be leaving everyone on the field” to ensure that his administration delivers on its promises to the Cayman Islands.
Mr. McLaughlin was speaking during his presentation of the strategic policy statement for the 2018/19 budget, providing a broad overview of his national unity government’s policy priorities for the next two years. His outline also gave updates on a number of major capital projects government is undertaking.
Multiple opposition legislators also responded to government’s plan, supporting some objectives while criticizing others.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller said many of government’s stated objectives are valuable, but that leaders aren’t taking enough of a Cayman-centric approach to achieving these goals.
“We believe that if Caymanians do not begin to believe once again that they’re first in our country, and that they have equal opportunity to participate and benefit from the economic miracle, then the country is looking at serious problems down the road,” he said. “We must restore hope for Caymanians.”
The premier presented what he called eight “strategic objectives,” many of which overlapped.
Government’s first and foremost priority is ensuring a thriving economy, he said.
“Put very simply, in our three small islands, unless we secure economic growth, we have no chance of achieving anything else,” said Mr. McLaughlin.
To that end, the strategic policy statement outlined $311 million of capital spending over the next three years.
About $243.65 million will go toward a number of capital projects, including the George Town landfill remediation, the new waste management system, the Owen Roberts Airport redevelopment, the cruise berthing facility and the new John Gray High School.
Mr. McLaughlin said that the landfill remediation work will start in 2018, and will close when the new waste management system comes onstream.
“This implementation of the new waste management system will dramatically reduce the need for the landfill, and so will resolve once and for all the question that has vexed successive governments of these islands: What will happen to the dump?” he said, though not providing a timeline in his speech for the waste management system project.
The Owen Robert Airport renovations, he said, are scheduled to be finished in early 2019. This statement slightly pushed back a forecast provided by the Cayman Islands Airports Authority in February, when the authority said the project was set to be finished by the end of next year.
As for the cruise pier project, Mr. McLaughlin said that preliminary designs and cost estimates are complete, and that the project will be tendered around the end of next month.
The premier added that his administration intends to complete the new John Gray High School, but did not provide a timeline for the project. Mr. Miller expressed doubts that government will complete this development given the resources it is devoting to other initiatives.
Along with the capital projects, another $65.6 million of the capital spending will go to cover the operational losses and debt obligations of multiple government companies, including the Cayman Turtle Farm ($22.5 million), Cayman Airways ($17.8 million), the National Housing and Development Trust ($14.1 million), and the Cayman Islands Development Bank ($11.2 million).
The remaining $2.1 million of the $311.3 million of capital investments will be made to civil servants and persons requiring financial assistance for overseas medical care, according to the strategic policy statement.
Ensuring a thriving economy not only takes monetary investment, but also requires decreased crime rates, said the premier.
Government will work to do this by providing the Royal Cayman Islands Police force with additional equipment and officers.
However, Mr. McLaughlin also stressed that the police need to be accountable to the community. To achieve this, he said, government will establish a Cayman Police Authority, which will provide oversight to the department.
Mr. McLaughlin also said that works are under way to establish a program that will have “community wardens” patrol neighborhoods on behalf of the police, in order to establish more community trust. While the RCIPS wanted a community police program to fill this role, a warden program will be more cost-effective, said the premier.
While ensuring a thriving and robust economy is government’s main objective, emphasis will also be put on making sure that everyone in the territory has an opportunity to participate in such an economy, said Mr. McLaughlin.
The premier explained that government is working on changes to immigration regulations, which he said will improve “fairness and transparency” in the job advertisement process.
Government will also continue the “ready2work.ky” job program, whose pilot program saw 89 individuals participate – 64 of who obtained employment, he said.
For those who are unable to participate in the workforce, Mr. McLaughlin stated that government will increase its “poor relief” payments to Caymanians unable to provide for themselves from $550 per month to $650 per month in January, and then to $750 per month in Jan. 2019. Moreover, a supplemental stipend will be made to retired civil servants with more than 10 years’ tenure whose pensions are less than what recipients of the “poor relief” payments receive.
Mr. McLaughlin said that while his presentation outlines government’s goals, more concrete details will be provided in the coming months.
“It is the task of the budget process, which the [strategic policy statement] kicks off, to allocate government’s resources against those delivery plans to enable us to realize our ambitions,” he said.
Government is expected to present its two-year budget in October.