Cayman’s population is continuing its steady rise, nearing the 66,000 mark at the close of 2018.
The latest numbers in the Economics and Statistics Office Compendium of Statistics 2018 showed that an estimated 65,813 people were residing in the Cayman Islands at year’s end – 2,398 more residents than were living here in 2017.
Based on the numbers in the ESO report, Cayman could reach 70,000 residents in the next two years if the upward trend continues.
Some politicians have noted that on its current trajectory, Cayman could reach a population of 100,000 within the next 10 to 15 years. However, author and political analyst Roy Bodden said that is a figure he is not entirely comfortable with, given what he is seeing happening locally.
“I am concerned because we are not ready for that influx suddenly. There is no five-year or ten-year development plan in which the things that accompany such an influx of population has been discussed or prepared for,” Bodden said.
Bodden said, in his view, Cayman is already facing challenges with the current population.
“We are not up to 70,000 people yet and we have chaotic and confusing traffic, a proliferation of cars which is only going to get worse, in spite of how many roads people think they are building. More roads simply means more cars and until we come to the realisation that we have to do something, with the kind of economic system we have, we are going to have these overwhelming problems,” Bodden argued.
He said Cayman’s economic system is based on a consumption tax so the more that is consumed or used, the more money government earns from import duties and revenue.
“Simply, [it] means that, without any limits, we are going to be getting more cars because the government is getting more duties, 22% and 29%. It does not make sense. We have to go in for some kind of planned economy,” he said.
At the end of 2018, the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing reported that 35,620 vehicles had been inspected and passed in the Cayman Islands that year. A total of 27,991 were privately owned cars, an increase of 821 over 2017.
Time to pause and reflect
Bodden said the situation is getting to a point where it may be time to hit the pause button on bringing more people into Cayman, and take stock of the country’s precise needs.
“We must have a manpower needs assessment survey … [looking at] what kind of economy are we going to build? What skills do we need to build it? Where are we going to get the skills from? Are we going to grow some homegrown? Are we going to import some? And if you are getting homegrown skills, have we got the infrastructure in place?” he questioned.
He said coupled with those questions comes the issue of which jurisdictions Cayman is going to import human resources from, “because in any population growth, for it to be effective, we to have to have a balance”.
He said until the manpower needs assessment survey is done to determine how many people Cayman can absorb beyond what it has now, there is no way to tell what an optimum population would look like for these islands.
Bodden contended that, apart from the resources, there is a need to spread the population throughout the island.
“Are they all going to be in George Town, in the corridor that is popular now? Or is the population going to be evenly spread out? And then what are we going to do about the infrastructure and the environment, because these are the people who are going to be taxing the environment,” he said.
He added that attention must be paid to the environmental and social impact of a larger population.
“There is going to be more refuse collection, more strain on the infrastructure, essential services. How are we going to absorb them into the school and social system? So personally, I am very cynical about the whole idea of such a population growth over such a short period of time, when there are no obvious plans,” he said.
Added to this, Bodden stressed, the Caymanian people must not be left out of the process.
“Right now, we are having concerns expressed by the Caymanian people that they are being outnumbered, that they are being suffocated. We have to listen to these things and plan accordingly,” he said.