Premier Wayne Panton fired back in response to claims of division within his administration levelled by Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart during Thursday’s debate in Parliament on government’s Strategic Policy Statement.
“I want to assure the Leader of the Opposition, his colleagues and the people of this country that the PACT is intact,” Panton declared as he closed the debate on the SPS.
He said there are no divisions amongst PACT government members.
“They are just hard-working people. Yes, there may be occasional differences of opinions; that is as it should be. There are no extension cords over here. There is no one that will just ‘follow the leader’… Being a leader is a role that you earn and one… which you have to work to maintain,” Panton said.
McTaggart, in his contribution on Wednesday, was critical of the government’s SPS and its reopening plan. He also pointed to what he called “rumours” of division within the Panton camp.
However, Panton reminded McTaggart that he was part of the Progressives government that had members split away from its leadership.
“No group of individuals – whether it’s a coalition or a party or whatever – is immune from disagreement. But the heat of the level of disagreement amongst members in the Progressives was far greater at times than what I have experienced so far in discussions amongst members of the PACT government,” he countered.
He added that there is a “far greater commitment to our ideals and each other”.
Panton adds ‘meat to SPS bones’
The premier pledged to add more substance to the SPS after McTaggart, the George Town East MP, said in Parliament the day before that it needed “sufficient meat on the bone”.
Panton delved into the broad outcomes he had shared Wednesday in his presentation, although figures for the expenditures were not articulated.
Those numbers will be tackled when Finance Committee meets Tuesday at 10am.
He said safety was high on the list for all families and communities.
Panton said many concerned voices have been raised in the past few weeks regarding the “unsettling increase in gun violence”.
He said while shootings “historically were largely limited to specifically targeted individuals – [which is] no more acceptable – the violence has become more reckless with innocent bystanders being harmed.”
Climate of fear
This, he said, creates a climate of fear.
“We cannot have our people living in fear for their safety and that of their loved ones. We have made it a clear objective of the PACT government to create safer communities through direct and indirect interventions and approaches. We support neighbourhood watch programmes and encourage a culture of openness by urging communities to cooperate with the police,” he said.
He committed to delivering a modernised courts building and infrastructure to relieve current backlogs and meet future requirements. In addition, he called for a new fit-for-purpose prison “to fully address all security concerns and avoid overcrowding”.
Government, he said, will provide more cultural sensitivity training and support to all front-line police officers, including community safety officers, and “provide funding for necessary equipment and facilities to improve responsiveness and increase law-enforcement visibility and crime deterrence in vulnerable communities”.
Job opportunities for Caymanians
Panton pledged to increase social justice in the workplace and “maximise” Caymanian employment.
However, that did not mean government will deny necessary work permits, he said, adding, “Only that the law must be complied with. Business should only apply for a work permit when a suitable Caymanian cannot be found to do the job.
“First, we will enhance job opportunities for Caymanians through a data-driven and robust compliance approach. Where necessary, we will enact changes to existing labour laws and regulations.”
The plans are to develop a comprehensive skills database, he said, to allow Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman to match work-permit applications to unemployed Caymanians with the relevant skills and experience, and also match available jobs to new graduates.
“Our approach is not solely a punitive one. We recognise and appreciate that there are some great, perhaps many, employers out there. We will not have the good suffer for the bad. We will implement an accreditation system that rewards employers for hiring, training, and advancing Caymanians,” he said.
Government, he said, will increase work-permit fees in areas where Caymanian labour is readily available and increase administrative fines for illegal employment practices.
“We will also name and shame companies that consistently engage in poor labour practices. Beyond immigration-related issues, we will create and regulate a fair and safe workplace environment,” he said.
He did not specify what work-permit categories will be increased or by how much.
Tackling sexual harassment
Government, he said, will implement national anti-bullying and sexual harassment policies and “enact stronger laws to protect the disabled, elderly and other vulnerable groups”.
The Cayman Compass, last month in its Issues section, highlighted the legislative gaps concerning sexual harassment, with Panton publicly committing on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show, to enact a law to deal with this specific issue.
In addition, Panton said the government will review the permanent residency points system to ensure greater protection for Caymanians.
“We have also seen how grants of new permanent residents have been used to block the employment and advancement of similarly qualified Caymanians. This was never the intended goal of a permanent residency system and necessitates a thorough review to ensure that we are not putting Caymanians at a disadvantage when we grant permanent resident status,” he said.
Panton said the government will reform the rollover policy and provide initiatives to address underemployment of Caymanians.
Turning to the National Development Plan, he said part of his administration’s efforts in updating that will include developing a national road transportation plan and creating a national infrastructure fund.
Watch the premier’s speech starting at 1:33:49.