In a lengthy speech Friday, Premier Alden McLaughlin outlined the broad strokes of government’s policy agenda through to the end of 2021.
McLaughlin highlighted new spending plans and initiatives across every aspect of government.
Here, we break down some of the key policy promises and spending commitments in each sector.
Government is under pressure to push forward with plans to expand the road network. McLaughlin said, “For commuters and parents suffering the grind of daily travel from the east into and out of George Town, we will deliver a comprehensive package of highway improvements that tackle congestion.
“We will also look for progressive solutions to address future public transportation needs.”
The main plank of that package will be the extension of the East-West Arterial, first from through to Northward, and then on to Bodden Town, at a projected cost of $18 million. Improvements to the road network around Grand Harbour and in and around George Town are also planned. Road improvements will take place alongside a “specialist mass transportation study”.
The premier said a “radical new approach to public transport” was needed and the study will inform longer-term policies to take cars off the roads.
Conservation Law changes
The premier, who has previously expressed concern about the impact of a requirement to carry out environmental impact assessments for major road projects, suggested government would look to change this element of the National Conservation Law. He said a review of the law would take place with amendments planned early next year.
Again expressing frustration about the capacity of the law to hold up development, he quipped, “If the Conservation Law had been around at the time the Creator was turning his hand to founding our three islands, we would still be waiting on an environmental impact assessment.”
A new curriculum for primary school students and major organisational reforms for public schools are part of a package of education reforms announced by the premier.
McLaughlin said his government plans to create new governing bodies for the islands’ public schools – a move that he said would put key decisions in the hands of principals, parents and teachers rather than department administrators.
“Here is a radical idea,” he said, “maybe, just maybe, it is not the good people in the Department of Education, many of whom rarely set foot inside a classroom, who are best placed to make decisions about what happens in those classrooms.”
He said the new boards would help delegate responsibility from the department to schools, principals and teachers.
“While the minister will continue to set the overall direction for the education system and will hold schools to account, it will increasingly be the schools themselves that decide what happens in Cayman’s classrooms,” he added.
New classrooms are planed at Red Bay Primary School and improved sports facilities at other schools.
McLaughlin cited employment stats, which he said showed there were 3,300 more Caymanians in the workforce now than when his administration first took office. He added that these figures were no “red herring” and that labour force surveys also showed that Caymanians earn significantly more, on average, than expatriates.
“Caymanians in work are generally paid better than non-Caymanians and at the higher pay brackets, Caymanians and non-Caymanians are equally well represented,” he said.
Despite this, he said, his government had committed to reviewing Cayman’s $6-an-hour minimum wage and would proceed with the development of the new Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman unit, as well as a Fair Employment Commission to support Caymanians who are disenfranchised in the workplace.
Other new initiatives
McLaughlin outlined plans for a new health centre in Bodden Town. He said government would supply the land and the Health Services Authority would fund construction of the new clinic, which will offer primary medical care, along with X-ray facilities and dialysis.
Describing Cayman’s welfare system and legislation as hopelessly out of date, the premier said there would be reforms to “reshape the social assistance framework”. He said this would ensure help got to the “right people at the right time”.
The premier also highlighted the importance of the ongoing ‘Plan Cayman’ process and again suggested that taller buildings should be considered as an option for Cayman’s future. He said Dart’s plans for a so-called ‘iconic tower’ at Camana Bay should be taken seriously and also suggested taller buildings could be part of the puzzle for the revitalisation of George Town.
Progress on long-term projects
The premier also confirmed government would press ahead with plans for a new cruise and cargo port in George Town harbour. He said there would be further upgrades at the airport, including lengthening the runway.
He targeted the 2021/2022 academic year for the opening of the new John Gray High School and said progress could be expected on the national solid waste management strategy.
McLaughlin said he expected the near two-year negotiation process with the Dart-led consortium to be completed within the next few months. Once that happens, he said, “We will be able to put in place the enhanced recycling facilities we need; begin the preparatory works for the new waste-to-energy plant; and make substantial progress on the required remediation works at the landfill itself.”
Despite difficulties in finding contractors interested in bidding on the project, he also expressed optimism that the delayed long-term mental health facility would be built in the coming years.
The refurbishment of the old Scotia building to create extra court space will continue while a business case is developed for an overall redesign of court facilities. Preliminary work will also take place on plans for a new prison.
The premier said Cayman had worked hard to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading financial services jurisdictions amid “seemingly endless compliance initiatives”.
Though he lamented double standards and “moving goal posts”, he said Cayman would continue to engage with the European Union and others to ensure it avoided various blacklists and its reputation remained intact.
He said further marketing and legislation would be needed to protect Cayman’s core industry. Highlighting the recent critical Financial Action Task Force report, he said Cayman would respond to its recommendations.
“Cayman does not need or want illegitimate business and we stand ready to do all that we can to resist any attempts at using our financial services industry for money laundering, terrorist financing or other illegal purposes,” McLaughlin said.
Government will also press ahead with plans for a new Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation and Maritime Affairs and open an office in Hong Kong.
He said the function would be to help drum up new international business for Cayman, protect its core industries of financial services and tourism and help reduce reliance on the UK amid the distraction of Brexit.
“Over time, the ministry will develop a network of international offices in strategic locations where the interests of Cayman will be best served,” Premier McLaughlin said.
Despite continued concerns over a looming order in council that could mandate public beneficial ownership registries and talks over redefining the constitutional relationship with the UK, McLaughlin said the Cayman Islands had no ambition to sever the relationship with the mother country.
Citing the recent visit of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, he said the occasion had shown “how much these islands are British, and want to remain British”.
The premier also took time to trumpet the successes of his administration, saying the country was transformed from when he first took the position in 2013.
He said unemployment among Caymanians had been slashed from more than 10% to less than 5%, public debt had been reduced and government was running large budget surpluses. He said this economic success was the foundation on which everything else was built.
He added, “There is much more this government still needs to do. My pledge to the country today is to give everything I have to get it done.”