In his New Year message to the Cayman Islands, Premier Alden McLaughlin acknowledged that issues of the cruise port dock and same-sex marriage will be challenging ones for his government in 2020.
He said both were “important constitutional matters to be settled in early 2020”, with the Legislative Assembly turning its attention to same-sex partnerships and the courts considering a judicial review on the people-initiated referendum on the cruise berthing and cargo port project.
“Both issues have proven to be divisive ones and I hope that, whatever the outcome on each, that we all accept the decisions and come together as Caymanians and residents,” he said.
While lauding Cayman’s growing economy, stating that Caymanian unemployment, at 4.5%, fell to its lowest level in a decade in 2019, the premier said such success brings its own challenges, including Cayman’s ongoing “traffic woes”. He said the National Roads Authority would be working to reduce congestion and “smooth traffic flows at critical junctions and to increase capacity”.
He added that the government would be considering an “improved, fit-for-purpose” public transport system that would negate the need for the growing number of cars on local roads.
He said it was up to the government, businesses and individuals to maintain Cayman’s economic prosperity, “and, in so doing, we will protect our progress as a country, our political and financial stability and our social cohesion that is so important. All of this has been hard won over many decades and can be easily lost, should we take it for granted”.
On Monday, the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission called on the Cayman Islands government to expeditiously meet its obligations under the Bill of Rights as set out by the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal ruling on same-sex marriage last month.
“This topic continues to be an emotive one for our community, however a fundamental principle is that the Constitution will respect, and will protect, the rights of the minority even if the majority will not,” the commission stated.
In his new year’s message, Premier McLaughlin did not set out a timeline for precisely when the government would address the issue, but said it was important for “us as legislators to determine the best way forward for our islands and find a solution that works for Caymanians”.
He added, “If we abrogate our responsibility to do so, we must accept that the United Kingdom will legislate for these islands as the Court of Appeal has suggested they do. That would be the worst possible result for these islands, not just with regard to same-sex partnerships, but more generally.”
McLaughlin said he remained confident that the cruise berthing and cargo dock was supported by “most Caymanians”, stating that if electors vote to go ahead with the dock, then government would move the project forward. However, he said, if he were wrong and the majority of the electorate vote against the dock, government would accept the result and halt the project.
He added, “If the no vote fails to reach the required threshold [of more than 50% of the entire electorate], I call on those opposing the government’s case to accept the result for the project to go ahead. This does not mean that the day after the referendum, there will be dredging in George Town Harbour.” He said work would continue to determine how best to mitigate environmental concerns.
In 2020, the premier said, the government would also be offering more support to the vulnerable members of the community, by granting more financial assistance to retired civil servants, seafarers and pensioners from January.
The monthly income for those individuals would increase from $750 a month to $850 a month, he said, with further increases to be introduced in January 2021.
Also this month, civil servants will see a 5% cost-of-living salary increase, which the premier said would also spur private sector companies to stimulate wage growth.
McLaughlin said 2020 would also see the extension of a government scheme for Caymanian first-time home buyers, which exempts the first $400,000 of the purchase price from stamp duty.
The premier said capping of the George Town landfill would begin in 2020, describing it as a first step in ending Cayman’s “unsustainable reliance”. He added that Cayman would see increased recycling and the introduction of a waste-to-energy programme.