Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan said using the phrase “scare tactic” in a Radio Cayman interview, to describe the government’s announcement and subsequent reversal of a decision to halve the monthly $1,500 stipend for displaced tourism workers was a “poor choice of words”.
Following a backlash from some stipend recipients and criticism from the Opposition which accused him of playing a “cruel hoax”, Bryan told the Cayman Compass Tuesday that the government had originally intended to reduce the stipend to $750 a month, in light of plans to reopen the borders from October, and had budgeted accordingly.
Government’s Finance Committee, in July, approved an additional $27.5 million in funds to pay the stipend up until the end of December – which factored in the intended reduction in the stipend for the last two months of the year.
However, Bryan said, more recent indications had shown that it was unlikely, even if the borders open fully by then, that Cayman would return to the levels of tourists seen in previous high seasons, and many people who lost their jobs, especially in the cruise tourism industry, would still be in need of the full stipend amount.
“We don’t know what the tourism numbers will be. They won’t be 100%. They may be below 50%,” he said, based on feedback from cruise lines, as well as from airlines, which are waiting until after 14 Oct. to restart their Cayman routes, and hotels that show their bookings are down for the rest of the year, compared to previous years.
“This means there will be a large number of people not being able to go back to work,” Bryan said.
He said that while a decision had been made to continue paying the full $1,500 a month stipend until the end of the year, this was not publicly announced. “I left it rather than making an announcement,” he said, because full approval had not been given for it and the funding was not yet in place. Plus, he said, he wanted to continue to incentivise those receiving the stipend to sign up with WORC for available jobs.
Referring to his comments on Radio Cayman’s ‘For the Record’ show on Monday, he said, “It was a slip. The words ‘scare tactic’ were not the best choice.”
But he insisted his intention had not been to mislead the recipients of the stipend or to play a hoax, as he was accused of doing by the Opposition.
He said it is clear from the July Finance Committee meeting request for funding for the stipend, that there had been an intention at that time to reduce the payments in anticipation of an influx of tourists following the reopening of the borders.
Opposition: ‘Cruel hoax’
Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart issued a statement Tuesday saying the tourism minister had played a “cruel hoax” on tourism workers who had lost their jobs and were in financial need.
“With Minister Bryan’s admission to these ‘scare tactics’, he and the PACT government should be ashamed for carrying out their cruel hoax on the Caymanian public, especially on those unfortunate Caymanians who are unemployed through no fault of their own. A hoax that the government dragged on for over two months. Hoaxes and scare tactics are not the way a responsible government behaves,” he said.
McTaggart, who leads the Progressives party, accused the government of causing unnecessary stress to many Caymanian stipend recipients “as to how they would manage their financial affairs after October, in the runup to the Christmas holidays”.
In his statement, he said he and his Opposition colleagues had heard concerns from recipients first-hand. “I suspect that Minister Bryan and his PACT colleagues heard from them as well. And so, as the Minister has confessed, the political negativity from it forced his hand,” he said.
McTaggart had previously called on the government not to reduce the stipend, unless Cayman’s tourism industry had recovered, and has also called for an increase to the monthly assistance payments.
“What [the PACT government] now need to do is to apologise to the country for their cruel hoax and to use the upcoming finance committee meeting to increase the tourism stipend to $2,000 per month.”
Bryan, in response to the Opposition’s comments, said McTaggart and his colleagues were playing politics with the issue.