Panton maintains vaccination push; puts education, environment top of agenda

Plans reform of work permits, increase in minimum wage

From ensuring local school children are fed, to plans to reform work-permit fees, Premier Wayne Panton outlined his administration’s road map for the Cayman Islands Wednesday in his Strategic Policy Statement.

Panton, however, also used the opportunity to remind people that none of the government’s plans can be implemented if they do not hit the vaccination target of 80% of the population and get the economy rolling again.

“I am begging everyone in this country who has not taken the vaccine – not from a position of weakness but from a position of concern for the health of this country – to help us reach our goal. We cannot remain closed to the outside world forever. We have to let people come back into our country to help us rebuild,” Panton said as he delivered the 2022-2024 Strategic Policy Statement in Parliament.

Call for vaccinations continue

The premier reiterated government’s pledge to safely reopen borders and to make decisions that the public’s health at the forefront.

“We have a plan to reopen our borders, but nothing we come up with will work safely unless everyone in the Cayman Islands, who is capable of taking the COVID vaccine, takes it. We must realise the goal of vaccinating 80% of our population and we will continue to use the population figure of 71,100,” he said.

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Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Chris Saunders lays the SPS before Parliament on Wednesday.

However, Panton said the reopening plan can be pulled back at anytime, based on government’s assessment at each stage.

“These assessments will be based on medical science and data,” he said, adding Cayman could see a return to mask-wearing and social distancing as visitors are allowed back to local shores.

He urged residents not to be misled by those “spreading misinformation either deliberately or inadvertently”.

“The vaccine is safe… The reality is it is the only real solution we have to regaining some degree of normalcy with open borders, while still protecting the lives and health of our people,” he said.

Using the COVID outbreak in the British Virgin Islands for illustration, Panton said “that could constitute, as much as it would for us, a public health disaster”.

“We do not want this happening in the Cayman Islands,” he said as he pleaded for residents to roll up their sleeves.

“I am imploring those listening, those watching, if you haven’t been vaccinated and you are able to please do so. Do not wait, the lives of our people are at stake. The livelihoods of our people are at stake… in fact, for each individual their lives may be at stake personally if they are unvaccinated,” he said.

Spate of shootings

The latest shooting happened at Vic’s Bar on Seymour Drive. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Panton also spoke to the recent spike in gun-related incidents that have left two dead.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, he said, has been “resolute and robust in its response to these crimes” and the National Security Council has also adopted measures to fight gun crime.

However, he acknowledged that the cause of the gun crime must be addressed.

“I am keenly aware that the social ills such as the inequity and the disenfranchisement that has led to a sub-culture of gun possession and criminality didn’t emerge overnight,” he said.

Government, Panton said, is committed to addressing the deep-rooted issues, as a matter of priority.

Forecast remains steady, SPS furthers campaign pledges

Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Chris Saunders laid the SPS in Parliament on Wednesday, outlining Cayman’s financial forecast for the next three years.

He said the current stability is expected to continue.

SPS Board outcomes

• Improving education to promote lifelong learning and greater economic mobility
• Ensuring an equitable, sustainable and successful healthcare system
• Providing solutions to improve the well-being of our people so they can achieve their full potential
• Strengthening good governance for more effective government
• Supporting climate change resilience and sustainable development
• Increasing social justice in the workforce
• Using sports to enhance the lives of our people
• Building a modern infrastructure to ensure a successful future for our Islands
• Improve our Financial Services as an industry, product and economic driver for our Islands
• Improve our tourism, as an industry, product and added economic driver

But, he added, government intends to utilise the established $330.5 million line of credit secured by the Alden McLaughlin-led administration last year, in order to fund forecast capital expenditure.

“Government intends to borrow $230.0 million in 2021 and a further $100.0 million in 2022,” he said.

Core government’s debt balance is forecast to be $499.1 million as at 31 Dec. 2022, $446.4 million as at 31 Dec. 2023 and $398.8 million as at 31 Dec. 2024, he said.

The Consumer Price Index, which measures the change in retail prices, is expected to increase by 2.1% in 2021; 1.9% in 2022; 2.0% in 2023; and 2.6% in 2024, according to the SPS document.

Panton said government has planned capital investments in statutory authorities and government companies totalling $103.3 million over the SPS forecast period of 2022 to 2024.

This includes providing the Cayman Islands Airports Authority with $30 million, the National Housing Development Trust with $20 million, Cayman Turtle Centre with $9 million, the University College of the Cayman Islands with $10.2 million and Cayman Airways with $9 million.

Spending priorities defined

The premier outlined, in broad terms, what government’s spending programme will look like, with financing for improving education to promote lifelong learning and greater economic mobility.

“We believe that education is the most worthwhile investment in our country’s most precious resources. Many people may be shocked by the new reality that one of the issues we face is that of hungry children,” he said, as he pledged resources to back the Ministry of Education’s policy of ‘no child goes hungry’.

Government, he said, plans to re-introduce A-Levels in government schools, expand the scholarship age limit for post-graduate degree programmes and incentivise Caymanians to continue life-long learning by up-skilling themselves.

“We will reform work-permit fees, end dependency on cheap labour, increase labour enforcement and increase the minimum wage with an eye toward a workable solution,” he added.

A national job criteria list to reduce the number of misleading employment ads, as well as implement a system to match all work-permit applications to unemployed Caymanians with the relevant skills and experience, is also planned, Panton said.

Government, he noted, is also serious about supporting climate change resilience and sustainable development.

“We are committed to reviewing and revising the National Development Plan, without which we would just be paying lip service to future generations,” he said.

Government, he said, envisions a reduction in the number of second-hand cars that are imported from Japan and promoting the use of electric vehicles in the public transportation system.

“There should be stiffer fines for environmental violations, and mangrove buffer zones that have been damaged should be replanted,” he added.

Panton stated he intends to create fully-functioning constituency offices, work to implement district councils, introduce compliance officers for each ministry and implement a code of conduct for both Parliament and Cabinet.

At the start of the first meeting of the 2021 session, House Speaker McKeeva Bush outlined the policies and procedures of Parliament as he cautioned the media when it comes to reporting proceedings in the chambers.

“It is one thing to report debates of the Parliament as a matter of public interest but it is quite another thing for the media to carry any irresponsible or scandalous words that may happen to fall from the lips of the members speaking in Parliament,” Bush said.

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  1. A few observations.

    1. More spending in the economy will not adjust social ills. The budgets in New York and Los Angeles (and the associated debts) are 1000 times the size of those in Cayman and people still shoot each other and commit unspeakable crimes. Getting children educated and fed for school and stamping out child abuse and capital punishment in the homes of Caymanian families will do 100X more than naked spending ever will. We need growth to pay for social programs and border enforcement to protect us from boats bringing guns in the night, but working in the home with families to teach them to nurture and protect their children costs little and stamps out demand for guns and drugs in future.

    2. The World is open. I spent 1 year 4 months and 2 days in quarantine with all of us on island and have just left for the first time. I’m in Europe and it is not as bad as you read about in the media. There are systems for dealing with things. There have been setbacks to be sure, but the economy is not closed. Without big investments from Dart and other large local investors, Cayman would have had a far worse economic outcome and we would not have had the luxury of remaining closed so long. Whether it’s 60% 70% or 80% vaccinated, we need to get open because those are just feel good numbers and the World goes on. We are starting to do more damage to our reputation and national psyche by staying closed. Some of the folks who bought on impulse during lockdown are looking to sell and leave for example. That’s not good talk. When we do open there will be issues but they will not be as bad as anyone thinks, and far better than if we let this present state of affairs continue targeting some imaginary 80% of an unachievable number.

    3. Restricting our economy through work permit hurdles and additional fees will only harm “us”. There are 35,000-40,000 Caymanians. If you take out the retired, self employed and children there are perhaps 20,000 permit roles and we will require many many more jobs. These are jobs Caymanians will not, or can not do. Making it hard on the entrepreneurs and merchants in our society by making it hard to bring needed labor is a tax on our own success and growth as a nation. Look at the success of Dubai. They welcome everybody and provided you are a good person you get a permit quickly and easily. Their economy has grown without a Dart propping things up. There are thousands of entrepreneurs pulling in the same direction there. We need to make it easy for businesses. When we do, there will be more high paying jobs than Caymanians will ever need and certainly more than one or two very rich investors can provide.

    4. Getting the cheap cars off the road is a good idea. A lot are not roadworthy in their country of origin. That’s why they are here.