Premier Alden McLaughlin has announced his intention to seek re-election in the Red Bay constituency in the May general election.
He also named Finance Minister and George Town East MLA Roy McTaggart as his successor for premiership should the Progressives-led administration be returned to power.
McLaughlin, delivering his State of the Nation address in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, said that although he will not be premier again, having served two consecutive terms, he still has more to contribute to Cayman’s development as an elected representative.
“God’s and my constituents’ willing, I hope to continue to represent my people and assist in governing this country I love so very much, following those elections,” he said.
In his speech, the premier highlighted the contribution McTaggart made in keeping Cayman’s finances in good stead through the COVID-19 pandemic, lessening the economic shock to these islands.
“I am confident that the man who has managed this country’s finances during the term is more than up to the task in succeeding me as premier,” McLaughlin said as he endorsed McTaggart.
He said the country has a “really big decision” to make when it goes to the polls on 26 May as he outlined his administration’s achievements over the last near-four years.
While he agreed there have been “differences”, alluding to the recent division within the ranks over the Domestic Partnership Bill, McLaughlin said the administration has made much progress and there is still much more to be achieved by the National Unity government team.
“We have had challenges and, yes, we have had our differences along the way. But we have achieved much progress and created hope and confidence in Cayman’s future by working together and staying together,” he said.
McLaughlin posed a series of questions to the country as he made his case such as: “Does it stick with those who for years ago committed themselves to put aside political differences in the national interest and who have remained steadfast in that commitment? Or does it instead turn to a mismatched group of individuals who in the past four years have shown that the only thing that unites them is political ambition and political opportunism?”
He said he has seen political hopefuls emerging on social media, saying he has heard lots of talk, but no solution “nor who they will work with to deliver”.
While McLaughlin said he does not know what the future holds for Cayman, he is confident in the country’s resilience as it emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19 limits delivery on promises
As McLaughlin outlined his administration’s successes, he also pointed out that some of its promises have been impacted by the pandemic, such as year-on-year surpluses; no new fees or duties; and paying down on Cayman’s debt.
“It is a source of regret that the events of recent months will break our strong record of sticking with those promises. The reduction in economic activity is impacting government revenues while we have had to increase our spending to make the vital interventions to support businesses and families across these islands. Clearly, we will not deliver a surplus in this, our final year in office,” he said.
He added that, despite this, “we will finish our term without needing to raise new fees or duties and, we hope, without needing to resort to borrowing”.
“Very simply, that is because of the extremely strong position that our public finances were in as we entered this year. We have enough cash in the bank, we expect, to get us through the current difficulties,” he said.
As of 30 Sept., McLaughlin said, the Cayman Islands treasury held roughly $500 million in cash and deposits, representing operating cash and reserves and restricted cash.
He said while rebuilding the tourism industry may be slow, Cayman requires more diversification in its economy and job creation.
McLaughlin outlined the support his administration provided during the COVID-19 period as he commended those who helped manage the health crisis.
He said a one-off stipend of $600 was provided to taxi drivers and Caymanian tourism workers and in subsequent months all unemployed tourism-related workers received $1,000 per month.
“Over 200 musicians and artists also received support totalling CI$226,000. Assistance with health insurance costs from April through June totalling over $419,000 was also provided to workers who had been furloughed – covering over 1,200 individuals, employees and dependents. We also assisted individuals in the community with masks at a cost of over CI$131,000,” he added.
Additionally, he said, $1 million was provided to farmers to help buy feed and supplies.