Premier Wayne Panton has outlined his vision for a more sustainable Cayman.
In his first major address since taking office, the leader of the PACT coalition of independents put the emphasis on sustainable development as a key plank of his government’s policy agenda.
The announcement of a phased border reopening plan was the most anticipated element of the speech at the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon, but he also used the opportunity to outline some of the coalition’s policy goals.
He said government’s aim is to create “sustainability between our people, our planet and our prosperity”.
Panton said the pandemic had also highlighted economic divisions within Cayman exposing “deep fissures” in healthcare coverage and causing the social support network to crack under the pressure.
He said “dramatic inequality” lay hidden behind Cayman’s economic success and thousands were living on the “edge of poverty”.
The premier added, “It is no good for a select few to feast if the majority suffer famine. The climate crisis, increasing cost of fuel, increasing traffic congestion, pressure of development on critical natural habitat, loss of native flora and fauna, stony coral tissue loss disease and increased hurricane activity are all very real challenges that we face.”
Panton reaffirmed his commitment to sustainable development, saying climate-change mitigation needed to be embedded in every planning decision.
He said the processes of the Central Planning Authority would be more open and transparent. But he said government was not seeking to stop development completely.
He said development, as long as it is sustainable, could remain a driver for the economy, and added that investment in infrastructure and affordable housing was essential.
Home ownership is becoming out of reach for young people, he said, saying the issue was something the PACT coalition would address.
Panton also praised the financial services sector for its contribution to helping the island thrive economically despite the impact of COVID.
The ability of businesses to remain open during the lockdown had helped Cayman survive the pandemic, he said, praising those businesses for making the necessary adaptations to stay in operation.
“My government recognises the essential role of financial services to the economy. Now more than ever, we will seek to support promote and defend the industry as the list of threats and challenges continue.”
He acknowledged his government was a “diverse and disparate group” but said they had come together with a shared goal of better outcomes for the people of this country.
“Despite the wishful thinking of our critics, we are evolving into a team with a clear vision and a shared sense of purpose for the Cayman Islands.”
The premier added that putting Caymanians into jobs would be a key feature of the reopening of tourism. He acknowledged concerns around processing of work permits and said his government would assist businesses in recruitment.
But he insisted Caymanians must come first, adding that visitors wanted to see more locals in the tourism industry and that the pause in operations during the pandemic represented a chance to make that happen.