The Cayman Islands must spurn isolationism and “over-protectionist” political policies if the British Overseas Territory is to continue to thrive as it has done for the past 40 years, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday night.
In a strongly worded rejection of the populist, often referred to as ultra-nationalist, form of politics that has swept the western world in recent years, Mr. McLaughlin said he was concerned that many Caymanians in the generation behind his might not know the “tough times” that once beset this small country.
“Many of us living in this country do not understand what we have,” the premier said. “I hear them banging on about ‘we need to stop work permits,’ I hear them banging on about ‘we need to stop population growth.’
“I am not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn’t plan our development and our growth, but there is a reason why we … are the envy of many other places in the world. It’s because we have not been victims to insular thinking and prejudice.”
Mr. McLaughlin said immigration policies of successive governments in Cayman were part of the reason for its present success. Yet those policies, he said, are now constantly under attack on public airwaves and in discussions by opposition political members.
Opposition members, during the recently ended budget debate, have criticized what they termed Cayman’s over-reliance on immigration revenues – which are expected to earn the government $209 million in the next two years.
Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo said opposition members’ research indicated that government planned to introduce “another 2,000 new work permits” in the 2018/19 budget cycle.
Mr. Suckoo said. “It boils down to the government’s intention to rapidly increase the population. Clearly, our tax base is based upon consumption … but we’re growing that at the expense of Caymanians.”
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller said that until the government was ready to accept less money from work permit fees, Caymanian workers would continue to be at a disadvantage.
The premier said his government was aware that there are “challenges in many instances” to Caymanians getting opportunities for jobs. “Not everybody … is prepared to give Caymanians opportunities. We understand that,” he said.
Mr. McLaughlin said a new government human resources department would be formed under his ministry to regulate work permit grants and to help Caymanians receive “real opportunities” in the job market.
He said the department would ensure that all jobs must be posted on the government’s clearinghouse website and that rogue employers who post unrealistic qualifications for job ads would be penalized.
However, Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Suckoo’s statements, and those by some of his colleagues, about curtailing overall growth and progress should be rejected.
“[They’re] cussin’ the foreigners, saying that nobody should be granted Caymanian status if they’re not married to a Caymanian,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “That is the kind of thinking that put Bahamas where they were for all of those years.
“There is no future, no future in isolationist policies, in over-protectionism and constantly hammering, hammering, the source of Cayman’s prosperity,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The premier said the attacks by opposition members did not help as Cayman battled outside forces that sought to tear down its main source of annual income – the financial services industry.
“[The Paradise Papers release] is part of a coordinated smear campaign about tax havens, as they are continuing to brand us,” he said. “There is the immediate threat of blacklist by the EU ECOFIN [Economic and Financial Affairs Council] ministers,” he said.
“Then I hear members of the opposition bemoaning major construction projects, challenging things like government considering a transshipment port … and I say to myself, how is it that we are supposed to provide the revenue to fund education, to fund healthcare, to deal with mortgage foreclosures?” Premier McLaughlin continued. “Money does not fall like manna from heaven. This country has been built and is still reliant on inward investment. Failing that, we are in huge trouble.”