The Leader of the Opposition’s Response to the Strategic Policy Statement

April 26, 2023by The Progressives

Madam Speaker,

For the benefit of those who might be listening or watching that it is useful to point out that the Opposition only saw the Premier’s Strategic Policy Statement this morning, and there is little I can speak to in his Strategic Policy Statement at this stage.

But Madam Speaker, I listened keenly to the Honorable Premier and closely followed the many promises he has again made to the Caymanian people. Promises that he says will be delivered over the next two years.  Madam Speaker, in some respects, I had a Déjà vu moment.  As the Premier spoke, I was sure we heard these same promises two years ago. Yet  few of them got done.

The key question for me is, has the Premier, at last, found a way to achieve where he has so far been unable to over these past two years?

The Premier seemed somewhat optimistic, perhaps even hopeful, during his delivery Madam Speaker.  I encourage the Premier to nourish whatever optimism and hope for success that he may have.  But he should not overlook his reality.




The reality is that he and the PACT Government have sadly been unable to deliver for the Caymanian people over these past two years.  And so, the majority of Caymanians are not hopeful or optimistic that the Premier and PACT can deliver for them over the coming two years.

I will return to these thoughts later in my debate Madam Speaker.

But I do thank the Premier for delivering his government’s Strategic Policy Statement.

We have only just last week welcomed Her Excellency Ms. Jane Owens to these Islands, and I know she has found a warm welcome here. I am sure she will enjoy her tenure as Governor. Who could fail to do so in our wonderful Cayman Islands? I appreciate that Her Excellency has a job to do here, and my colleagues and I look forward to working with the Governor during her term in office. Madam Speaker, I would add that when some local voices express doubts about the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom, I would reassure Her Excellency that we in the Progressives remain committed to maintaining that relationship. A relationship that brings mutual benefits to the UK and our Islands.

Indeed, our national security and economic strength greatly benefit from that relationship, and I pray that it shall long remain so.

I would also like to record the appreciation of the Opposition for the work done by our former Governor, Martyn Roper.




The role played by Governor Roper during the pandemic, working alongside former Premier Sir Alden McLaughlin, was essential in keeping the Cayman Islands safe and ensuring that vital air links to the outside world were maintained.  These efforts allowed, as far as possible, the people of these Islands to go about their daily lives with some normality. As a serving member of the last Administration, I recall well the hard work that Governor Roper put in. Again, I want to record our thanks for what he did personally, and the support given to those of us in the elected Government as we made those difficult decisions necessary in such uncertain times. Our actions in those early days of the pandemic were crucial for much that followed, including the few deaths that we had, coupled with the many months of almost normality.  That preparation, alongside the solid financial position that the country was in, provided the foundation for our re-opening.

But let me return to the Government’s Strategic Policy Statement.

Madam Speaker, I started my contribution with an essential question regarding today’s Strategic Policy Statement. Has the Premier found a way to pull his team together and deliver on his promises to the country? This question is relevant given, in my opinion, the chaos and lack of leadership that have characterized the last two years.

Madam Speaker, The Strategic Policy Statement should represent the collective view of the elected Government as to its future direction. It has become the norm for the Premier to present the plans and policies on behalf of the Government.  After which, the Finance Minister delivers the financial plans that underpin the policies in




the SPS to assure the House that the country’s finances can meet the Government’s planned agenda.

And therein, Madam Speaker, lay my first concern with what the Premier has presented to the House today. The Premier is now, after all, also the Minister for Finance and, as such, is a one-person SPS show – speaking on policy and on the financial data that underpins that policy.

So, Madam Speaker, please forgive me if I have questions about whether this SPS, delivered by the Premier, truly represents the view of the entire Government. Hopefully, this will become clear to us in the debate that ensues today.

If this Government has not bought into the Premier’s SPS, and if he cannot lead a united team to deliver on the promises of the SPS, then this is a policy statement based on wishful thinking rather than a coherent strategy.

I say this because, since inception, it has been clear that the Premier has presided over a government challenged by his leadership style, and so some of his colleagues have, in turn, challenged or at least regularly questioned his leadership.

And so, the PACT Government has been plagued by internal disunity and factional division. Madam Speaker, everyone in this room knows I speak honestly. No number of motions declaring confidence in the Government could hide this reality. Nor could any number of public meetings with Government members proclaiming that the “PACT may have stumbled again, but it is now back and still intact.”  It’s all a show Madam Speaker.




Madam Speaker, whilst I would prefer not to be here addressing these issues, I must do so because it goes to the heart of whether the Premier can achieve the promises made to the Caymanian people in this Strategic Policy Statement.

Madam Speaker, you may recall that two years ago, when speaking to the Government’s first Strategic Policy Statement, I said to the Premier then, quote:

“We on this side understand that even when elected together on a common platform and common purpose, there will always be challenges. But that common platform and purpose usually bring heads together, and through collaboration, there is a resolution. I hope, Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of the country, and the benefit of the Premier, that despite the rumours that abound about the divisions in the Government that they are indeed mere rumours, and the Premier has been able to bring his team together to achieve the same level of unity and ability to deliver for the benefit of the country as the two Progressive Governments did. Time will tell us.” Unquote.

And time, Madam Speaker has shown that the problems that beset the Premier and PACT from the very start have only worsened. This unfortunate state of affairs has been evident to everyone on these Islands. It has been obvious to the media who report routinely on the latest expression of the internal problems that beset the PACT administration. Madam Speaker, it has been obvious even to those who take little interest in the political life of our Islands.





The Premier has repeatedly sought to reassure the country that things are otherwise. But let us examine the facts, Madam Speaker.

We see the division in what has become the routine of Ministers announcing things, only to walk them back days later or to have the Premier step in to correct the record.

Madam Speaker, these have become known as the ‘Say Wha’ announcements.’

You hear a Minister on the radio announcing something, or you read reports in the press, and your first reaction is, ‘Say Wha?’ Then later, the embarrassed Minister mumbles an apology for getting it wrong.

I will focus on one example, Madam Speaker, the PACT Government’s tumultuous relationship with the East-West Arterial Road project.

The House will recall the then Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism announcing on the radio that they supported the development opportunities in the Central Mangrove Wetlands that could be made possible by building the East-West Arterial Road extension.

As the two Ministers made their startling announcement, listeners were left spluttering over their coffee as they exclaimed, ‘Say Wha?’  Regardless of thoughts on the need for this road, the initial disbelief by the public is understandable, given the Government’s clear policy stand on mangroves.





Madam Speaker, this type of development would be so plainly contradictory to this Government’s and the Premier’s declared policy objectives that the Ministers must have been aware of it.

For a Premier who had declared his government to be in the business of replacing lost areas of mangroves, the idea of building on acres of mangroves and other pristine natural habitats was always likely to have been problematic at best. It is no wonder that some in his Caucus still have doubts about his steadfast support for the road.

I will pause, Madam Speaker, to acknowledge that the Premier has commented several times that he supports the road being built. He has also said that the Environmental Assessment would be done by the end of this year. After which, the planning and technical work would begin in earnest.

But talking is one thing, Madam Speaker; and really taking action is another. And in the view of many Caymanians, Premier, like others in the PACT, need much improvement in the action department. I suspect this will be another important project that will not begin during the Premier’s term. I remain to be proved wrong. Time will tell.

Madam Speaker, while progress on the road could be in doubt, the saga of internal division has undoubtedly continued.  At the end of last month, we read reports of the Honorable Member for Bodden Town East, the newly appointed Minister of Border Control, telling his constituents that he intended to bring a motion to this




House for sections of the East-West Arterial Road to be built without the need for an environmental impact assessment. He has the support of some of his colleagues in this, and I hear he even had t-shirts printed. Then the Premier arrived at the meeting to remind the Minister, his colleagues, and the Minister’s constituents of the Government’s commitment to the EIA process.

Hearing the newly appointed Minister speak so boldly, the country may ask some questions. Who was speaking for the Government? Indeed, do the Premier and his Ministers not talk to each other? Do they not agree on the Government’s policies and plans before making public statements? What has become of the requirement of collective responsibility for Cabinet Members?

But, Madam Speaker, it has gotten more interesting.  It seems that the Minister from Bodden Town East has been reminded that he cannot bring a Private Member’s Motion and so has asked his colleague, the Member for West Bay West, to bring the motion on the East Arterial Road instead and seconded by the Member for Bodden Town West, who has recently left the Government.   We shall see how the votes on the Government bench play out, Madam Speaker.  But even if the motion is accepted, it only requires that the Government consider the matter.  The motion can be ignored if the Premier wishes.

And so, Madam Speaker, these ‘Say Wha’ moments are merely a distraction. The announced ideas never seem to happen and only help to illustrate how out of touch the Premier has become with his government members and they with him.




Madam Speaker, there are other examples of the Premier and his Ministers pulling in different directions when the country needs them to work together.

One such example is the acrimony of the split between the Premier and his former Deputy.

It was shocking but was not totally unexpected, given the fissures within the Government that it highlighted. That neither of them was prepared to let the matter rest and that both were prepared to badmouth the other tells us everything we need to know about the depth of divisions between them and within the Government.

First came the question of whether there was a resignation or a firing. We then had the former Deputy Premier reveal that the policy differences he had left the Government over included a $2bn increased price tag to implement the integrated solid waste management solution, Project ReGen. I will say more about ReGen later, Madam Speaker.

Shortly after, the Premier took to the airwaves to reveal that the former Deputy Premier had been fired over ‘issues of misconduct.’

But while the former Minister’s conduct is a concern, the bigger issue is the Premier’s conduct in all this. Whatever the differences that bedevilled the relationship between the Premier and his Deputy – one thing is obvious. Ultimately there is a problem of leadership.




In the run-up to this Strategic Policy Statement, the Premier has made several public pronouncements seeking forgiveness for the languid pace of delivery on his watch.

The Premier, at the Chamber of Commerce AGM and the RF Economic Outlook conference, has stressed the importance of his mid-term review of progress, or lack of progress, against the Government’s stated objectives. This review, he says, will provide a platform for accelerating the pace of delivery over the coming two years — an increased pace that his strategic policy statement today would ignite.

Madam Speaker, we know the routine. The confession and contrition are designed to show a statesman-like humility and understanding. Then looking forward to a new dawn is designed to get us to focus on promises of better things to come without digging too deeply into the past failures that have been apologized for and are glossed over.

Forgive us if we in the Opposition refuse to get taken in by such tactics. It is part of the Opposition’s job to expose the failures of the Government.  That is an integral part of our role in these hallowed halls Madam Speaker.

I do want to be even-handed. Before I speak again about the failings of the Government, I should recognize that the PACT Government have completed a few of the many things promised at the last SPS. And there are only a few Madam Speaker that can be ticked off.





The problem is that these relative successes tend to be things that would routinely get done by a civil service left to its own devices or the fruition of things begun under the Progressives-led Government.

I will acknowledge that since this Government took office, routine maintenance projects have been carried out in district centers; roads have been fixed in just about every other district except George Town, some new livestock has arrived on the Islands, and the Government has piloted exercise programs for older people; for example. All these items, and some others, are worthy things to have been done.   But, Madam Speaker, they do not require authentic political leadership to get them done.

Where major milestones have been achieved, many are the product of Progressives Governments’  initiatives and leadership.

We should not be surprised that PACT has sought to claim credit for the Progressives’ achievements, Madam Speaker.

As early as their 100 days report, the new Administration listed many tangible achievements that were the product of actions taken not by the PACT Government but by the previous Progressives-led Administration. Those included, for example, the three ‘good’ ratings achieved by John Gray High School, Layman Scott High School, and the Lighthouse School; work on the long-term mental health facility in East End; and the award of Darwin Plus funding for the Department of Environment to undertake invasive species control on the Sister Islands.




Speaking of John Gray. Last month, the new campus was officially opened. My colleagues and I were proud to tour the new facilities, and the new campus is very impressive. The vocational training facilities, in particular, will provide a springboard into worthwhile careers for future generations of Caymanians. The new campus is something to be proud of, but the House and the country will recall that the project was a Progressives initiative.

Madam Speaker, towards the end of last year, the Minister for Investment, Innovation and Social Development brought to the House legislation that would provide a new modern framework for financial assistance to those in need. We commended the framework, though, noting that it needed more real substance. That substance was to be provided in the regulations which were to follow. Once again, the work to deliver this change was commenced by the Progressives Administration. The only surprise was that it took 18 months for the Minister to bring forward the legislation that was being prepared even as we left office.

The Minister also advised this House in late 2021 that the Government was participating in the launch of a new Blue/Green investment fund. To the Minister’s credit, he acknowledged that the work on the fund had begun under the last Progressives Administration, and indeed, the heavy lifting had been done. We are pleased that the Minister took the baton over the line. We would, however, like to know what has become of the Blue/Green Fund and the millions of dollars of investment that were to flow from the fund into projects in Cayman?  Did the





Government actually make the investment into the fund that it had pledged? Perhaps the Minister can update us.

I commend the work that has continued within the Health Services Authority to deliver new and improved facilities and services to meet the future needs of our people.

Their ongoing delivery is the result of the five-year plan agreed to by the HSA with the last Progressives-led Government.

Madam Speaker, I hope the HSA will also continue to progress the work on a new district health center for Bodden Town. That district is the fastest growing on our Islands and, when added to the population of North Side and East End, accounts for over one-third of the Caymanian population. Bodden Town and the Eastern Districts need enhanced medical facilities to meet the needs of their growing population. Such a facility would provide better outcomes for people in the Eastern Districts that require medical care.  This will also reduce the number of people needing to travel to George Town for medical care.

The Premier has loudly proclaimed the virtues of the recently published Climate Change Risk Assessment. However, he neglects to mention that the research program that yielded that assessment and the funding that enabled it to happen resulted from the work of the last Progressives-led Government, specifically the now Deputy Leader of the Opposition, working with the Governor’s Office to secure UK expertise for the project.




Sadly, alongside the things that have been achieved by PACT thanks to the Progressives, there is also a long list of the things they still need to achieve even though we have already done the bulk of the work.

I mentioned the long-term residential mental health facility just now. The facility was due to open in mid-2021 when our last Administration signed the construction contracts. I accept that the pandemic caused undue delays in the work, but the PACT 100 Days report I just referred to, promised an opening in the first quarter of 2022. Here we are, another year on, and it still needs to be opened.

The Health Minister reported that she visited the site in February and said there is still construction work to do, but completion was ‘near.’ She has just last week promised completion in June but has still said nothing about operational requirements, such as recruiting suitably trained and experienced staff and the necessary clinical and family discussions about bringing patients back to Cayman from overseas. Meanwhile, the longstanding chairman resigned from his Chairmanship of the Mental Health Commission in January due to the lack of progress and lack of engagement from the Ministry.

These are just a few examples of the delays that we see that have become the hallmarks of this PACT Government.

And there is no more significant example than Project ReGen, Madam Speaker. I promised to address the controversy surrounding the project earlier, so let me do so now.




ReGen is designed to provide a series of built waste facilities that effectively end our reliance on harmful landfilling. Instead of going straight to a landfill, garbage would be recycled, composted, or sent to a new modern waste-to-energy facility that burns all the waste that cannot be diverted to other purposes and creates energy. This energy would be sold to CUC, reducing the need for diesel generation in Grand Cayman. It is safe, and it is sustainable. In this way, the project contributes to the goals of the National Energy Policy and the reduction in the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. In short, Project ReGen has the potential to make the most significant contribution to the sustainability of the Cayman Islands of any single government project that I can recall.

We had expected that a Premier and a Government as keen on sustainability as this one claim to be might have embraced the project. Instead, we have witnessed two years of endless prevarication. I heard what the Premier has had to say today regarding the Project, and I am happy that it seems the project is going forward. But still, we have no indication at this point as to when the remaining points that were to be negotiated can be brought to a close so that the project can commence.  We are running out of time.

The Premier has repeatedly claimed that the last Government misled the country by suggesting the contract was complete and could move straight into construction.

That is frankly nonsense. We never said there was a ‘fully negotiated contract’ that PACT could get on and execute, as the Premier has stated in the past.




In March 2021, we signed the Project Agreement, which sets out the key terms that form the basis of the full contract documentation and crucially sets out the agreed price. The final details were to be negotiated within the Project Agreement’s framework. This is how such complex negotiation and contracting practices work, Madam Speaker. That is the reason why we hired technical, financial, and legal experts to advise on this project from beginning to end.  My colleague, then Premier McLaughlin, made this crystal clear at the media briefing held at the signing of the Project Agreement. No one, no one should have been surprised that there was still much detail to be closed off.

But this was achievable in the time allowed if the project had been carried forward at pace. However, instead of months of negotiation, we got no action at all.

The Premier told the country himself at the time that his government was not working on ReGen because it was too complex, and his Government had other more urgent priorities. We then told him this inaction was unacceptable as it created real risks. Risks from fires as well as financial & delivery risks.

At the time of the budget debate in 2021, I said in this House, ‘It is a complex, technical project with a decades-long contract that needs to cover every eventuality. That is why it needs to be given the time and attention the project deserves, not simply left to one side.’

But sadly, The Premier did leave it to one side.





But the fact is that not meeting the financial close by the end of September 2021 meant that the Project Agreement terms had to be renegotiated, Madam Speaker. Most crucially, that applies to the price that had been agreed upon.

The Project Agreement signed in March 2021 gave this country price certainty. The cost to build the new facilities was fixed at $205m, with the financing cost for that being bundled in with the operating costs so that the contract would mean the Government paying an average price of $163 per tonne for garbage processing over the 25-year life of that project. The expected total cost of the contract in cash terms at the point the Project Agreement was signed was under $670m. At that point, only minor variations could have affected the price. Madam Speaker, that was the state of affairs as we knew when we demitted office.

The cost we presented to the country in March 2021 had been reduced through the negotiation period by bringing some operations back into the Department of Environmental Health, DEH, including recycling, rather than putting them through the ReGen project contract.

This gave better value for money and guaranteed the jobs of 32 existing Caymanian employees at the DEH.

Instead of the agreed cost we had negotiated, the Premier has recently talked about a total cost of $1.5bn, more than double the expected costs when the Project Agreement was signed by us in 2021.





I look forward to the Premier’s explanation and having him show the reason for how the cost of the project has increased to this point, a mere two years after it was agreed.   I have no way of knowing what the final figure will be. However, it will be clear that the cause of any price increase is solely the delays that PACT has caused and the renegotiation of things that were previously agreed upon.

I sounded this warning very clearly during the budget debate in November 2021.

Referring to the passing of the deadline for financial close, I said to the House then:

QUOTE:  ‘Whatever new deadline he has established, the Premier should also level with the country about the consequences of the delay that his inattention has created. We know that with any delay comes increased risk, higher costs, and more environmental damage as the solution to the waste problem gets kicked down the road. I have previously asked the Premier to set out for the country the answers to a series of questions about these consequences. Despite his professed commitment to transparency and accountability, he has declined to answer those questions.’ UNQUOTE

The time is coming, Madam Speaker, where these questions must be answered.  The country needs to know why the cost of this project has increased so much.

I still believe that, and the Premier has said it here today, provided the increased cost can be afforded, we have little alternative but to press ahead with ReGen. It is the right solution for our Islands, and I believe the Premier finally recognizes that too.




The responsible thing for the Premier to do, then, would be to begin to provide for the increased future costs in his forthcoming budget. I do recognise from what he said today that he is going to set up a ‘sinking fund’ into which $25M per annum will be paid into it.  I commend him, for this was one of the recommendations that I had included in my remarks to him.   The right thing to do is to start to address it now by establishing a sinking fund, to which funds are placed and ring-fenced, to be used to help fund the country’s obligations under the contract.

The other issue the Premier keeps raising is that things were somehow left out of the contract.

In one sense, he is correct. As I mentioned, and as was evident at the press briefing in March 2021, the scope of the work to be done by DECCO in the contract had been reduced. DEH would now operate some new facilities, such as the recycling plant.

The Premier claimed we had forgotten the Sister Islands. Well, we had not. Things that could be done on the Sister Islands would be done there, such as composting. To get DECCO to operate facilities for the Sister Islands was prohibitively expensive, so we left operations there with the DEH.

The rest of the Sister Islands garbage would be collected at transfer stations and sent to Grand Cayman for processing. We left the Sister Islands out of the ReGen contract with DECCO. However, they were still an integral part of the overall solution we had negotiated.





I note the Premier had stopped claiming we forgot the Sister Islands and has recently shifted focus to say we failed to provide for DEH. Again though, I reiterate that we gave an expanded role to DEH.

An area of the site was earmarked explicitly for DEH operations – for those looking for it, it is labelled ‘ancillary facilities’ on the site maps used at the time.

In addition, it was agreed by the project team that the DEH equipment could be serviced by the Department of Vehicle and Equipment Services, which removed the need for an entire bespoke maintenance facility for DEH.

Therefore, once again, DEH operations were fully accounted for when the Project Agreement was signed. The Director of DEH was a vital project team member, and I am confident that if we were leaving out any part of his operations that he would have been screaming.  But that was not the case.

We believe, Madam Speaker, that the early neglect by the Premier to engage with the project was a fatal error, and the subsequent delays have only compounded the problem.

If you recall, Madam Speaker, I mentioned that the Premier had explained that he had been willing to ignore the need to focus on ReGen because he had other priorities that needed his focus.

Therefore, the country might expect us to see progress on those things he had deemed more important. He should have been willing to drive forward his own priorities.




Taken as a whole, the SPS broad outcomes announced by the PACT Government nearly two years ago include approximately 230 different commitments made by this Government to the people of the Cayman Islands. It is unclear whether some are single commitments or contain more than one target, so I have used the 230 figures as the best estimate.

The Premier has told us that he has required his Ministers to account for their progress on their Ministry’s goals over the life of the Administration so far.

In the run-up to this debate and the SPS, I have tried to do my own analysis, Madam Speaker. I am sure that Ministers will claim that progress is being made on many fronts in the depths of the Government Administration Building, but let’s be honest, very little is seeing the light of day. This is important, Madam Speaker, as it gets back to my central question of whether we can expect the Premier and PACT to achieve what he has told us that they will in the remaining two years.

Again, I could see that progress had been made on some of the Government’s targets. I mentioned some of those previously and will mention some more now.

Under the auspices of the Minister of Health, I welcome the HSA’s partnership with the Alex Panton Foundation to open Alex’s Place to improve access to mental health services for Cayman’s young people. I know this will have been close to the Premier’s heart, too, and we all want to see our young people able to access the care and support they need.





With that in mind, I encourage the Health Minister to continue that work and to broaden it into a partnership with her colleague, the Minister of Education, to ensure that lower-level, non-clinical counselling, advice, and guidance are available to young people so that we might prevent mental health issues from escalating to crisis levels.

Speaking of the Minister of Education, we continue to support her commitment to the policy direction she began under our previous Administration. Our increasing concern here is with a lack of pace. We are seeing less progress than we might have hoped.

My colleague, the Member for George Town South, has asked several questions at recent sittings of Parliament designed, amongst other things, to ensure the new national curriculum is properly rolled out; that a renewed effort to drive up levels of attainment in mathematics is brought into focus; and that technical and vocational training is being properly supported.

Her questions at this sitting include a concern for the quality of teaching and the potential benefits of a new governance model for Cayman’s schools. I hope the Minister takes these questions in the spirit they are intended: not as a criticism to be rebuffed, but a challenge to be welcomed as an opportunity for improvement.

The Minister of Education is also responsible for this PACT Government’s one genuinely new achievement – the free school meals program. The last Progressives-





led Administration was discussing school meals but only in a very preliminary way, and I commend the Minister and her staff for the rapid rollout of the initiative.

Indeed, so successful has it been that the Premier, in addition to announcing it

as a project to improve school students’ health and aid their focus on learning but has been re-announced several times as a cost-of-living initiative.

All Ministers have now had two years in office, and by now, the country should be seeing the results of the political leadership they have been bringing.  Sadly, in many cases, the results are not encouraging.

Let us consider the case of the Minister of Sport.

The PACT’s 100 Days report was full of make-work activities carried out by new Ministers.

But special commendation must go to the Honorable Minister for Sports, Youth, Culture and Heritage. The most noteworthy achievements of his first 100 days were holding a strategic retreat, attending some meetings, and delivering two sets of remarks.

Maybe though, the weight of his responsibility for Home Affairs was holding him back from delivering against his other commitments.

I have tried, Madam Speaker, but it would be hard indeed to mark any of the Minister’s twenty SPS targets as anywhere near complete.




Madam Speaker, we may hear Government Members jumping to defend their records as part of this debate.

I expect we will hear of meetings they’ve attended; overseas visits they have made; documents they’ve reviewed; legislation they’ve been drafting; consultants they’ve appointed; strategies they’ve been preparing; and plans they’ve been working on.

But this afternoon, I would invite Caymanians to ask whether all that apparent effort is making any real difference to their lives.

So, what of the Premier himself in all this? Surely, he will be giving leadership by pushing forwards his own Ministry’s objectives at a relentless pace.

At the time of the first Strategic Policy Statement, the Premier made the achievement of a new National Development Plan, a flagship policy for his government. So important was it, that he told the country, that he would be driving it forward himself.

Little was heard about the National Development Plan for months, despite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s constant quest for answers and challenging the Premier to get on with it by using the work started with Plan Cayman during the last Administration. Indeed, nothing was said for about a year until the Minister of Financial Services was sent to a Chamber of Commerce event to speak on the Premier’s behalf. As an aside, Madam Speaker, even back then, there was chatter about infighting because the then Deputy Premier was not invited to give these remarks.  But let me not get distracted.




While the Financial Services Minister said nothing about the Government’s record in his speech to Chamber members, in response to a question about the need for a new National Development Plan, the Minister did provide an update on the Government’s progress.

The Minister told his audience that he had expected the question and had a short statement from the Premier, who, of course, had taken over responsibility for preparing a new Development Plan from his planning minister. Speaking on the Premier’s behalf, the Financial Services Minister told the Chamber, ‘It’s no secret that it’s not quite off the ground yet.’

The Minister went on to tell the Chamber and the country:

‘But with certain events past us now, [the Premier is] going to be working diligently with colleagues and in caucus to create a comprehensive plan.’

That answer was given in the first week of July 2022.

By the last week of July 2022, the Premier told the media that the new National Development Plan would not be delivered during PACT’s term of office.

I tell this story, Madam Speaker, because it illustrates the two issues that undermine this Government at every turn. Two issues that bring the delivery of today’s SPS into doubt.

The first is the confusion and lack of coherence among Cabinet and Caucus members.




Here we have the unfortunate Minister, sent out by his Premier to defend the woeful lack of progress on this flagship policy and told to make yet more promises of future progress, only to find his legs swept from under him just three weeks later. Who could blame a Minister if he were to get frustrated at being put in that position?

The second and most significant issue this episode exposes is that this Government is getting so little done.

I referred to the National Development Plan as the Premier’s flagship policy. This is not my interpretation but his own.

Following the election, the Premier trumpeted the establishment of the new Ministry, which would, under his leadership, focus on making Cayman one of the most sustainable countries in the world. He explained to this House in his SPS speech of 2021 how that would be achieved.

He said, ‘Most importantly, we are committed to reviewing and revising the National Development Plan, without which we would just be paying lip service to future generations.’

A year later, he conceded that he had yet to make progress during that year and could not deliver the new, comprehensive plan he promised. Premier Panton must therefore accept that, not in my terms but by his own measure, his government is indeed ‘just paying lip service to future generations.’




As his planning minister, at least, subsequently identified, there is a way in which progress can still be made, and that is by picking up the Plan Cayman process, which my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, had started and championed while in office. Madam Speaker that framework process was not ours, it came from within the civil service- a way in which they believed a development plan review could be accomplished and put the country in compliance with the law.

Okay, let’s accept that the Premier has not been able to achieve his target to deliver a new National Development Plan, but surely, he must have made progress on the broader sustainability front.

But based on the evidence available publicly, Madam Speaker, that does not appear to be the case either. Halfway through his term and the best the Premier can claim is that he is working on ‘formulating a comprehensive Cayman Sustainability Agenda.’

Two years in, and he is still formulating an agenda. The Premier has hired consultants to tell him what sustainability means and how to find all the ways in which current government policy is falling short of the United Nations’ sustainability goals.

The other area that I would like to touch on is the cost-of-living crisis.

In his recent public remarks, the Premier has acknowledged that families and businesses have had to face skyrocketing inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. He told the Chamber of Commerce in February, for example, ‘Make no mistake, this cost-




of-living increase is putting too many families and too many businesses under stress.’

But acknowledging the reality now will come as little consolation to those who have been suffering over recent months and who continue to suffer, as our government has been asleep at the wheel.

Their strategy for dealing with inflation has been mainly to pretend it was not happening. At least until we forced them to publicly respond.

When the then Minister of Finance presented his budget forecasts to Parliament, he told us that inflation would be 3.4% in 2022 and only 2.2% across 2023-25. The Minister of Finance reassured Parliament and the country that he was confident that inflation would remain under control, enabled by ‘relatively stable rental prices and declines in transport and electricity.’

Of course, the Government got it completely wrong.

Once more, it is not just hindsight that allows me to say this. In this House in November 2021, I told the finance minister that his estimates would prove wrong, and the consequences could prove disastrous.

In my response to the Government’s budget, I pointed out that inflation in the United States was already at its highest level since 1990 at above 6%. I told the Minister of Finance that this would inevitably lead to higher inflation in Cayman.





Indeed, I pointed out that there was already evidence of that inflation in our grocery stores, at the gas pumps and on our utility bills.

Finally, I warned the PACT Government that inflation often hits our society’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. As costs rise due to inflation, so too, must Government support. That was November 2021, Madam Speaker.

Rather than learning from this catastrophic blunder, the Premier and his former Minister still tried to wish the problem away.

The 2021 Annual Economic Report published by the Finance Ministry/ESO In August 2022 forecasted a rate of inflation for 2022 of 7.9%.  Yet the Ministry’s own figures in the C.I. Consumer Price Index Report, published on July 29, 2022, already showed that inflation was already running at 12.1% for the first half of 2022. To recap, one report published in July had inflation at a high of 12.1% at the end of June 2022, yet a report published in August 2022 is projecting that inflation by year-end 2022 would be 7.9%.

At the end of September, the Minister finally caught up with what had been painfully evident to the rest of us for at least a year. And so, the Government’s First Quarter Economic Report, issued in August 2022, finally adjusted the inflation forecast to 10.1% for the year-end.

In the end, we know that the inflation rate for 2022 averaged 9.5%. Much of that general rise was caused by considerable leaps in the price of groceries, clothing, gas, housing, and utilities. In short, all the things that Caymanians need to spend on




every day. Even as general inflation started to ease in the second half of last year, the data shows a staggering 14% increase in the cost of groceries year on year to the end of 2022.

This begs the question, why has it taken this Government so long to recognize the crisis going on all around them? This represents to me a devastating failure of the government. Madam Speaker, I see and hear it every day from the calls and cries I get from constituents and non-constituents looking for help and assistance.

The Government, in my mind, collectively were blind to the evidence in front of them; they were deaf to warnings that I and others were giving them, and they were silent on what, if anything, they might do to mitigate the impacts of ever-increasing prices on families and businesses.

It has only been the actions of the Opposition that have forced the Premier and his Ministers’ hands and got them to face up to the cost-of-living crisis that was gripping the country.

During the session of Parliament last June, the Economics and Statistics Office released data confirming that inflation had reached 11%.

In the absence of any word from the Premier or the then Minister of Finance about the crisis and how Government might respond, the former Speaker allowed me to ask an urgent question, asking what the Government intended to do about the looming catastrophe for families and businesses that these inflation figures




represented. I not only asked what the government would do but offered several suggestions as well, Madam Speaker.

Those who watched that session of Parliament will recall it took the Premier several hours, closeted in a meeting room with his colleagues, to come up with an answer to that question. And to be truthful the answer he eventually gave was so inadequate that he felt compelled to try again early the following morning.

It was clear then to me that the Government had not understood the pain already being felt in households across our Islands. And they obviously were not prepared for the crisis that enveloped everyone else.

I do welcome the short-term assistance with the electricity bills that the Government had given households and the other measures finally put in place since the Summer. Many of those measures were suggested by the Opposition and supported by us.

Every member here today will know that runaway inflation has caused real hardship for households and actual harm to businesses across our Islands. In that context, every member here must also recognize that the PACT Government’s response has been woefully late and wholly inadequate. This failure is particularly irresponsible because as prices on items being imported rise, the Government has been earning more revenue on import duties from those higher prices. And every day, families and businesses are paying even more. Even property prices have gone up, making it harder for young Caymanians to buy land or a home.




Yet the Government has sat on a motion, brought by the Members for George Town West and George Town South, to reduce the overall level of stamp duty for Caymanians buying property to 5% – that would save Caymanians $2,000 in duty for every $100,000 in property cost.  The motion also called on Government to increase the amount on which first-time Caymanian property buyers would pay zero duty to $200K for land and $500K for houses and apartments.  And for amounts in excess of that, 2% duty.  There was a provision too to assist Caymanians in joining together to invest in real estate. The motion was accepted unanimously, Madam Speaker, and would go quite some way to help ease the housing burden for first-time buyers.  I freely acknowledge it would not and could not solve the housing issue, but it would help in a meaningful way. Yet for almost a year, nothing has been done that we are aware of – and many Caymanians have missed out on this.

More broadly on the economy, the government has highlighted the jobs numbers, which they say are a sign of the economic recovery Government has overseen since the pandemic.

Once more, I am willing to give credit where it is due. The achievement of a Caymanian unemployment rate of 3.6% should be a cause for celebration.

I say ‘should be’ advisedly, Madam Speaker, because if we look at the figures published by the Economic and Statistics Office (ESO) in a bit more detail, we can see that the garden is not as rosy as we are being led to believe.





The headline Caymanian unemployment rate of 3.6% in the Fall 2022 labor force survey represents a significant reduction from the rate of 5.1% given in the Spring 2022 survey.

Yet, surprisingly, the survey also shows that, in fact, there were over 200 fewer Caymanians in work in the Fall when compared in the Spring.

You might find it as surprising as I did, Madam Speaker, to see a significant reduction in the unemployment rate is not, as we might assume, because more Caymanians are working. I will say this again, Madam Speaker.  The reported unemployment rate has fallen but, as the ESO has reported, 200 fewer Caymanians are actually working.

So, what is driving the apparent reduction in unemployment in the Fall report? That certainly needs an answer, Madam Speaker. But there is more.

The ESO data also shows that the Caymanian labor force fell by around 550 persons between the Spring and Fall surveys. So, while there were fewer Caymanians in work, there were also fewer who had said they were unemployed. And because the unemployment rate is calculated as a percentage of a smaller workforce, the reduction is quite dramatic.

Are you with me so far, Madam Speaker? I hope so because there is another level of intrigue to all this.

Why is it that the size of the Caymanian workforce has shrunk by some 550 people in six months? Are people really leaving the workforce, or is something else going




on?  The ESO report suggests that the working-age population is actually falling at the same time as the overall population is still increasing.

There may be answers somewhere in the ESO data, but try as I might, I cannot make any sense of the conflicting trends. I fully accept that this may be my lack of understanding, and I do not suggest in one-way shape or another that the figures are being manipulated. However, I will reach out to ESO to seek their help in understanding the figures.

But what is of concern to me, Madam Speaker, is of those Caymanians in work, the Labour Force Survey shows that there has been a massive jump in those categorized as underemployed – 1,344 underemployed in the Fall survey compared with 905 in the Spring survey. That is an increase of very nearly 50%.

I should add that the proportionate increases in the underemployment of permanent residents and non-Caymanians are even greater, Madam Speaker. That is also a concern that needs to be investigated.

So, I ask the question what is really going on in our economy?  I fear that this level of underemployment represents Caymanians and others being forced to take whatever hours they can get to work in order to buy groceries and pay for their utilities and pay for all the common things we need to live.  That is probably the reason why we receive so many calls from people needing assistance.

What it does underpin and suggest is that there is an urgent need to review and uplift the Minimum Wage. I truly regret that the last Progressives Administration did




not complete that work, Madam Speaker. We began the review work in 2019 but failed to complete it as the pandemic captured our attention.

I see that Government has gotten around to appointing a committee to examine the issue and that they do expect a report in June, as I understand it.

But let me return to the question of what is going on in our economy.

Stayover tourism is seemingly doing well, but clearly, there are challenges that remain as we are not back to the level we were in 2019. Cruise tourism, however, according to what the Minister has told the country, will continue to decline.   It will continue to bring less dollars into the coffers of the government.

Past revenues from property transactions are helping to fuel the Government’s surplus, but anecdotally, we are hearing of development projects that have been put on hold due to risks and uncertainties caused by the Government’s lack of direction.  Several PACT Ministers have, I recall, also publicly noted their own concerns about a coming slowdown in the development sector and the negative impact this could have on employment and government revenue.

The Government’s recently published financial results show that the revenue on property transactions is 10% lower in 2022 than in 2021.   The detailed analysis indicates a $22.1M surplus on property transactions against the estimates at the year-end.  The mid-year results indicated that there was a $17.5M surplus against the estimates.   This suggests that the bulk of the additional revenues were earned in the first 6 months of the year and then slowed down in the second half of the




year.  Granted, there may be good reasons for this.  But nonetheless, taken together, these two trends might imply a slowdown in the market in the second half of last year.

What we should be doing is asking the question of whether there are problems looming in the construction and development sector.  If there are, they would be drawing up plans to mitigate the risk.  What is our government doing? I ask the Premier to address these questions in his windup.

The weight of increased costs due to higher inflation also remains a concern, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, Government recently reported about the billion-dollar government revenues, but they have not said how the government will help relieve some of the economic stress that the Premier acknowledges is being felt by households and businesses.

I repeat again what I said in this House in November 2021, Madam Speaker.  That inflation hits our society’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. As costs rise due to inflation, so must Government support.  And so let us, in the next budget, increase the assistance given to those now receiving the $950 ex-gratia assistance to $1,500.  Let’s be bold. For most, this is their only income, and they are barely getting by today.  This would be about the same percentage that we did when we were in office and took it from $500 per month to $950 per month. It is something that is achievable.




You see, Madam Speaker, whilst the inflation rate may be declining, this only means that costs are rising at a slower pace than they were previously.  It does not mean that prices have come back down or that they will come back down. History tells us it won’t.  It is unlikely that the prices of everyday goods and services, including food and housing, will return to where they were in 2020.  One of two things must happen.  Everyone will have to adjust to the new reality of the prices we pay. Or businesses and government will have to dig deeper to pay employees more.

Recent news from the US indicates that the slowing rate of inflation primarily reflects the impact of lower fuel prices, which have been declining sharply since peaking in June 2022.  Energy costs dropped 6.4% over the past year. However, the annual food index is still up 8.5% in the US over last year.  We are already seeing that oil prices and prices of fuel are starting to rise again.

I suspect that when the ESO publishes their next set of inflation numbers we will see a similar trend here. Government cannot fix inflation that we import, but there are ways to give some people some much-needed relief.  And so, I again urge the Premier to, in the next budget, temporarily remove any duties on fuel – whether used at the gas pumps or by the utility companies.  That gives real relief.

Again, if he believes this is a bad idea and would be of little use then I look forward to him saying why and offering viable alternative solutions to assist those who are so desperately feeling the pinch of inflation.





My colleagues may speak more on traffic, Madam Speaker, but I am disappointed with the slow approach of the Member for George Town Central who had responsibility for Transport.  The new Minister responsible for Transport, The Member for North Side, has sensibly continued the plans of the past Administration regarding roadwork, and that has benefited his reputation for action.  But again, Madam Speaker, the roadworks plans he is completing began under the Now Deputy Leader of the Opposition. We shall see now how he does with the task of modernizing Public Transportation.

Though I remain disappointed at the Government’s refusal to consider any of the proposals put forward when the traffic issue was last debated in this House, the report prepared under the previous Administration is there for them to consider, nonetheless.  We wait to see how swiftly the Minister moves forward with any plans to relieve traffic. The Member for Red Bay has filed a private members motion that we believe can help with this issue – that is for the Government to consider requiring private schools to utilize school buses like public schools. I look forward to the debate during this sitting.

The increased level of crime is a real issue in our communities, and this, too, needs attention.  No excuse about the Governor being responsible for security removes elected members from also bearing some responsibility in the eyes of our constituents.  Let’s remember we hold the purse strings. We must use whatever means of persuasion that we can to influence positive results regarding security for all who live on our Islands, including increasing resources if they are needed.




There are other looming issues of concern to our Islands Madam Speaker that need more than promises to act.  That is what we saw from the last SPS Madam speaker – many promises but little action.  No one can say that about the plans announced in the Strategic Policy Statements delivered by the last two Progressives Administrations, Madam Speaker.

Let me mention a few of these looming concerns that affect an important and fast-growing part of our population – Caymanians over the age of 65.  According to the 2021 Census, the number of over 65’s in the Caymanian population has nearly doubled in just a decade. These are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbours – indeed, the generation that built our Islands.  If we are lucky enough, we will all get to that age someday. Some of us here are already close to it.  And so, the issues that worry those over 65 will one day affect all of us.

So, what are some of these worries?

Madam Speaker, we know that the current pension regime needs to be reviewed and a new direction taken to deal with the needs of retired Caymanians. Most of our people will unlikely have enough of a pension to live comfortably in retirement over the course of their remaining lifetime.  This is an issue now, and it will get worse.  The pandemic has certainly made this much worse.  We need to hear what the government planning to do about tackling this? But I note that they spoke about reviewing the pension legislation.





The Health Insurance regime is also a concern, with insurance companies focused on serving younger people in good health, not older retirees.  What is the government contemplating to assist elderly Caymanians on a fixed-income pension to obtain quality, affordable health care in their retirement years? It needs considering and may need a somewhat radical solution in order to work.  Madam Speaker, I have to say that within the past six to eight years, I see with increasing regularity the number of people who cannot afford health care coverage because of the increased cost, but also the numbers who cannot get insurance cover.

Sickness in old age can financially cripple a family, Madam Speaker.  Not just the elderly but also the extended family who may be caring for their elderly.  A recent newspaper article reported that in the Caribbean, cases of dementia are expected to increase 150% by 2050.  The Cayman Islands is no exception, Madam Speaker.  Dementia is an increasing health problem in our Islands, and we need to focus on this as keenly as we are on preventing and treating heart disease, strokes, and cancer.  There is also a huge need for facilities to help care for dementia patients and for the ageing.  Are the health issues caused as we age being looked at by the Government, particularly by the Minister for Health and Wellness?  I hope to hear from her as to her plans regarding these issues.

We have much to look forward to if the Premier and his Government are going to deliver on this SPS.  We will have to wait to see over the next two years how much they are able to achieve for Caymanians.





I asked earlier whether the actions of this Government were making a difference in the lives of Caymanians. That must surely be the yardstick by which a government is judged. And it is not just my proposed test for this PACT Government, Madam Speaker.

In his message at the start of the published 2021 SPS document, the Premier wrote, Quote: ‘We are committed to improving the lives and welfare of all of our people. It is our mandate and what all of our broad policy outcomes are aimed at.Unquote

So that is the judgement I now invite the people of the Cayman Islands to make.

After half of this Administration’s term, do you feel better off? Has your life and welfare been enhanced? Are you confident that the remaining members of PACT can put aside their differences and that the Premier can lead his team to achieve in the next two years what he has not in the first two?

I suspect that the answer to those questions will be a resounding ‘no’ for the overwhelming majority of Caymanians. This PACT government has done little to enhance our quality of life.

The PACT has failed for the last two years, and nothing the Premier has said today can give me or anyone else the confidence that things will change in the next two years.

But Madam Speaker, as the saying goes, The Buck stops with the Premier and he surely must accept that.




During my contribution, I have acknowledged that there are some achievements in the credit column of the PACT government.  Individual Ministers may perhaps believe they might have achieved more over the last two years had there been strong support were there a Government that was united and working together.

Madam Speaker, sadly that has not been the case, and as a result, so little of substance has been achieved.

There is a warning common on modern investment products that past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

However, in most walks of life, we recognize that unless something fundamental changes, the best predictor of future performance is what happened in the past.

I hope the government will be able to transform these policies into what is a coherent and purpose-driven budget that will allow them to deliver on the projects, on their commitments and to deliver on their policies.

The challenges that face our Islands are far too big.


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