George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan is not convinced the Cayman Islands, or its citizens, are doing quite as well as the Progressives-led coalition government might believe.
“This administration is going to talk about how good we’re going to do, yet there are still more people in need,” Mr. Bryan said during the ongoing budget debate Thursday night.
Mr. Bryan referenced his political mentor, now opponent, Premier Alden McLaughlin’s recent statements that the government’s 2018 and 2019 budgets commit to “full employment” of Caymanian workers through “long-term opportunities created through better education and skills.”
“Those benefits to Caymanians will be delivered by supporting our people and giving them the opportunities they need,” Mr. McLaughlin said during his budget address.
The most recent unemployment numbers showed an overall jobless rate of 4.1 percent, generally considered to be “full employment” in other developed countries. However, the Caymanian unemployment rate was higher at 6.2 percent.
In addition, Mr. Bryan pointed out that government seemed to recognize the need to increase its poor relief budget during the next two years.
According to budget documents, money spent for poor relief – financial assistance to elderly or disabled residents – was due to go from approximately $6.3 million in 2017 to $7.4 million in 2018 to $8.5 million in 2019.
The government expected the number of people receiving that assistance in increase from about 950 to 1,200, Mr. Bryan said.
“Based on trends … more and more Caymanians are coming for assistance,” the George Town Central member said.
He noted estimates in the housing assistance portion of the budget also indicated that more people were going to receive aid during the next two years. “Another signal that there are more people in need,” Mr. Bryan said.
The first-term MLA said the Cayman Islands had been experiencing a higher home foreclosure rate since 2015 than it has ever seen, yet he said there appeared to be little in the National Unity Government budget to address this “mortgage crisis.”
The number of people losing their homes to foreclosures in the Cayman Islands has almost quadrupled in the five years between 2010 and 2015, according to a report last year from the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association.
There were 116 forced sales in 2015, the report noted, compares with just 30 in 2011. Realtors said the increase suggests a more aggressive approach from banks to dealing with bad debts – mortgages that lenders felt residents would be unable to pay.
Opposition MLAs, including Mr. Bryan and Bodden Town West’s Chris Saunders, have proposed measures to make it more difficult, or at least to extend the length of time it takes for foreclosure proceedings to take effect. Mr. Saunders has filed a private members’ motion in the assembly to ask that lending laws be changed to allow homeowners with greater equity in their properties to be given more time to pay if they become delinquent.
Mr. Bryan said the Progressives government members, as well as allied Cayman Democratic Party MLAs and independents on the government benches, need to make their position on distress mortgage relief clear.
“It wasn’t in the Progressives manifesto and it wasn’t in the statement that the Hon. Premier delivered to this Honorable House,” Mr. Bryan said.