Premier Alden McLaughlin revealed plans to create a new ministry to fight for Cayman’s interests overseas, saying the territory could no longer rely on the United Kingdom to defend the islands’ economic interests.
Delivering his State of the Nation address at the opening of the Legislative Assembly 2018/19 session on Cayman Brac, the premier blamed a “handful of misinformed malcontents” within the U.K.’s Conservative party for attempting to impose public beneficial ownership on the territory.
He said the “sorry episode” highlighted that the Cayman Islands had to “step out of the U.K.’s shadow and stand up for itself.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the new Ministry of International Trade and Investment, which he will lead, would take charge of Cayman’s London office and a new outpost in Hong Kong, and would be responsible for advancing the economic and political interests of the territory.
In a broad-ranging speech covering his government’s plans for the next year, Mr. McLaughlin also:
- Announced plans for a 5-percent pay raise for civil servants;
- Pledged to achieve full Caymanian employment through the creation of a new Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman agency;
- Confirmed the purchase of the Scotiabank building and plans to erect another new multistory courts building next door;
- Announced an increase in personal duty allowance for residents from $350 to $500 – a measure that will cost government $1 million;
- Dismissed the need for a referendum on the cruise berthing project, saying the people had their say at recent general elections where cruise pier plans had been on the manifesto.
A police parade and guard of honor was held as schoolchildren lined the streets outside of the Aston Rutty Civic Centre immediately before the assembly session.
The event marks the 50th anniversary of the first Legislative Assembly session on the Brac and Mr. McLaughlin was among those to highlight the strong relationship between all three Cayman islands.
In his policy address, Mr. McLaughlin said the strong economic performance of the government over the past few years was now paying dividends.
He said continued economic growth was necessary to fund infrastructure improvements, new schools and pay increases for teachers and civil servants.
“I believe the day we stop growing is the day we start dying,” he said.
The premier highlighted risks to the future of the financial services industry, including the threat from the U.K. of a public register of beneficial ownership. He said that specific threat would be addressed through the courts if necessary but warned the episode showed “we cannot rely on the U.K. to defend, let alone promote, Cayman’s economic interests.”
He said the new Ministry of International Trade and Investment would become operational early next year and would act as an advocate for Cayman and as a doorway for foreign investment.
Mr. McLaughlin again admonished the U.K.’s behavior over beneficial ownership as a “constitutional over-reach.” He said he was in talks with U.K. government officials over constitutional reform “in order to clearly delineate local matters from the very few areas where the U.K. needs to retain competence to act directly.”
On employment, the premier said the new WORC department, which will integrate work permits and workforce development into one agency, would be more effective than the soon-to-be-defunct National Workforce Development Agency.
Along with plans for a “Fair Employment Opportunities Commission,” he said the agency would help deliver more job opportunities for Caymanians.
“This government understands that we must do more if we are to deliver on our commitment to full Caymanian employment, where any Caymanian able and willing to work is able to find employment.”
He also reaffirmed pay increases for teachers, already announced by Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and announced a pay increase for civil servants.
He said the 5 percent cost of living increase would be backdated to July 1 of this year. He said this, along with another potential increase in 2020, would bring civil service salaries back on track after seven years of “playing catch-up.”
He said there would also be a broader salary review for police, fire and environmental health workers to ensure those agencies are able to attract and retain staff.
Mr. McLaughlin said the promises, along with the completion of previously announced projects, including the new waste management system, airport and mental health facility, had been made possible through sensible economic policies.
He said his government had been able to get long-standing infrastructure needs addressed and improve pay and staffing in police and other departments with no new debt and no new taxes.
He said the government of national unity was one he was “proud and privileged to lead.”
“Working together as one, my ministers and councilors have achieved much over the last 15 months and I am proud of all they have done. In the next two and a half years we will achieve much more. There is great strength in unity. The best is still to come.”