As the Cayman Islands looks ahead to a new era under the leadership of Premier Wayne Panton, a blueprint for the possible direction of the country is beginning to emerge.
While the members of the independent PACT coalition did not campaign on a joint platform of ideas, the MPs that now make up the government did address some similar concerns on the campaign trail.
“We chose to focus on what united us as opposed to what divided us,” Panton said, as he explained how the coalition of independents had been formed in his inaugural speech as premier.
Cost of living, traffic, over-development, quality of life, affordable housing and good jobs for Caymanians at reasonable wages were touchstones of many of the pre-election speeches of the group.
Identifying those issues is one challenge, addressing them is likely to be another. There were multiple ideas, however, that emerged during the campaign that could potentially be put into action quickly.
Here we look at 10 concrete policy initiatives, many of them suggested during the campaign by candidates who are now part of the government, that PACT could seek to implement within the first 100 days.
1. A clear policy on development concessions
The decisions of the previous government to waive duty on construction materials for a number of multi-million dollar condo projects, was highlighted consistently on the campaign trail.
The auditor general has previously spoken out over the lack of action to create a clear and transparent policy for which developers can apply for duty concessions and under what circumstances they would be granted.
It is clear that the new government would have a mandate to bring in such a policy.
2. Incentivise low-cost housing
The issue of affordable housing for Caymanians was raised on many occasions by many of the members now in government.
A concessions policy, as outlined above, could be used to target tax breaks to incentivise affordable housing developments.
Another idea, raised by now-Deputy Premier Chris Saunders, was to waive stamp duty on property sales (charged at 7.5% of the total property price) completely for Caymanian buyers on their first three properties, regardless of value.
That may be a measure that has to be introduced incrementally, but Saunders was not alone in suggesting expansions to duty waivers for Caymanian home-buyers and some expansion of those concessions could be expected.
Currently stamp duty is waived for first-time Caymanian buyers of properties up to $400,000 in value.
3. Introduce a parliamentary code of conduct
The absence of a ‘code of conduct’ for parliamentarians was highlighted before, during and after the election amid the furore that surrounded Speaker McKeeva Bush’s assault conviction.
Several candidates, now government MPs, joined the Human Rights Commission in calling for a written document setting out the expectations for behaviour of elected officials.
Though the PACT government did make a deal with Bush to help form a government, a condition of that agreement was his support for a code of conduct, which Panton has indicated will be quickly introduced.
4. Review import duty on ‘essentials’ to reduce cost of living
Cayman’s base rate of duty for imported products is 22%. There are a number of waivers for essential items as well as for ‘duty-free’ products sold primarily to tourists.
Several candidates, including new Cabinet minister Bernie Bush, said on the campaign that this was long overdue for review and expansion.
“People can’t afford the essentials they need,” he said during a Chamber of Commerce debate.
He pointed to duty waivers and reductions on crystal, watches and binoculars compared with the full tax requirement for “baby food, Pampers and sanitary napkins”.
Reviewing and amending that list would be a quick win on cost of living for the new government.
5. Maintain safety first approach on COVID-19
No candidate campaigned on a different approach to the pandemic and Panton, in his inaugural speech, paid tribute to the previous government for their handling of the outbreak, highlighting the “miracle of life without masks”.
Kenneth Bryan, who will be the new tourism minister, indicated in a debate on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show prior to the election that he supports a safety-first approach.
“I don’t think we have a choice but to take it in a slow and safe way. That is what has got us here,” he said.
“We have to follow the science and respect it. That is what got us this far.”
6. Investigate public transport reform
While there is no quick fix to the traffic gridlock highlighted by multiple winning candidates, the new government has a clear mandate to tackle the issue head on.
Possible policy initiatives, including restrictions on car ownership for work-permit holders and more remote working, were highlighted during the campaign.
Most candidates acknowledged, however, that a safe, efficient, on-time public transport system would likely need to come first.
Bryan, who also takes the transport portfolio in the new Cabinet, expressed support for a new approach to public transport in his Crosstalk appearance.
A commission or committee to investigate the wide range of ideas that has emerged on the topic would be one concrete, early step that the new government could take.
7. Change some faces on Cayman’s boards
Calls for a more environmentally friendly approach to planning and development could mean a reshuffle on the Central Planning Authority, among other boards.
The auditor general, in a 2019 report, raised concerns that membership of the authority – which adjudicates planning applications – was made up largely of individuals associated with the development and construction industry.
The last government did introduce some new faces, including former National Trust director Christina McTaggart-Pineda in a 2019 reshuffle, but it would be open to the new government to make more wholesale changes.
A number of positions, including that of the chair, are up for renewal in July.
Whoever is on the authority must apply the Planning Law and zoning regulations, however, so the longer term goal of revising and updating the island’s Development Plan would also have to be considered.
8. Implement national climate and energy plans
The National Energy Plan and the National Climate Change plan already exist. It would be open to the new government to wipe the dust off these documents and seek to ensure they are being implemented.
One point of controversy, for example, in the run-up to the election was concerns, highlighted by renewable energy advocates, that the pricing and policy decisions from the regulator on residential solar did not reflect the national goal of converting to clean energy.
Speaking on the campaign trail, André Ebanks, now a Cabinet minister, said more concerted efforts were needed to use renewable energy as a jobs engine.
Panton’s creation of a new ministry “to address the existential threat of climate change” suggests this will also be a priority.
9. Review the minimum wage
A planned review of Cayman’s $6-an-hour minimum wage was postponed amid the impacts of the pandemic.
Several candidates said they would seek to review and increase this.
“You are hearing a lot of us campaigning in support of a higher minimum wage,” said Prospect MP Sabrina Turner on the campaign trail, “but I think that needs to be expounded on when it comes to a living wage”.
Turner, who will be health minister in the new Cabinet, said people were struggling to meet their basic needs.
“$6 can no longer make the cut. You may be able to afford the milk, but there is no cereal.”
10. District councils
The concept of advisory district councils to give constituents a direct line to their MP and a voice in shaping solutions to the issues in their areas was cited by many winning candidates as a priority.
The Constitutional Commission has also called for district councils to allow people to “engage and influence the democratic process” as part of their constitutional rights.
Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, the MP for West Bay Central, was not alone in highlighting this is as a priority.
Speaking on Crosstalk prior to the election, she said “supporting the implementation of district councils” would be a priority within the first 100 days.
“That is one of the first ways we can hold our MPs accountable and we are able to see the true voice of the people represented in Parliament,” she said.