February 25, 2020

Cayman Islands: Gordon Barlow – Fixing up George Town


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By Gordon Barlow

Gordon Barlow

The way things are going, as a commercial centre will lose most of its relevance within the next ten years. Camana Bay – four miles to the north – is modern and up-market, and a much more attractive place for stopover tourists and cruise-passengers alike. It would be unfair to say that is looking seedy, just yet – or even particularly tired; but it does have some tacky retail shops and eating-places, not appropriate for middle-class visitors. There are plans to spruce GT up, to compete with its rival. 

Camana Bay was designed by the best town-planners Ken Dart’s infinite supply of capital could buy. As the owner of the whole development Mr Dart has had the freedom to negotiate the re-siting of roads and the allocation of land-units. And he has done a superb job. The place is a credit to him.

His commercial park knocks the socks off downtown GT, as an attraction for visitors. GT grew up before the days of professional town-planning. Confined in a haphazard layout of mildly congested streets and lanes, financial-sector offices rub shoulders with cheapo T-shirt shops and rowdy bars. Wild chickens share the sidewalks with pedestrians. (Actually, the chooks are quite cute, especially when they hang out around the KFC shop, but – well, it’s not quite in accordance with the image that our professional types would like to project.) GT is quaint, but quaint doesn’t generate much enthusiasm these days

Downtown merchants are indignant at the bussing of cruise-passengers up to Camana Bay, to shop and wander around, but they (the merchants) think it’s up to the politicians and bureaucrats to help them out, and to pay for whatever it costs. That’s pathetic, but par for the course in a Cayman in which people are encouraged to suck on the government teat rather than find their own sustenance. 

Sadly, Cayman is no longer a self-help society. A few years ago, in a blog-post called “Give a kid breakfast” [February 2015, if you want to look it up], I grumbled about the welfare mentality that encourages parents to rely on charities to feed schoolchildren. Indeed, some parents are genuinely not competent to manage the money they earn; but too many parents believe that they are entitled to mooch off the rest of society at every opportunity. The entitlement culture, we call it.

Charity-recipients are supposed to be means-tested, but the testing-system is corrupt – or inadequate, at least. Many of the kids applying for the free school-meals come from homes with much fancier cars than Linda and I can afford. So how are they allowed to game the system?

I don’t suppose we can realistically blame the politicians and government bureaucrats for turning a blind eye to the corruption – or inadequacy – that allows self-reliance to be chucked out the window. After all, it’s the absence of a cultural self-reliance that gives them their job-security. Wages and pensions in the Civil Service were a lot, lot, lower back when self-reliance was the norm in Cayman…

Outside the offshore-finance sector, Cayman is galloping towards full socialism. State-control of the entire workforce has been around for decades, and today we are beset by threats of new laws and regulations designed to control the day-to-day operations of commerce. And we let them do it. Even the Chamber of Commerce stays silent in the face of the rolling-back of private-enterprise freedoms.

As a general statement, our downtown merchants are milking the entitlement culture as much as the free-breakfast parents. They (the merchants) want government to make their place more attractive, and seem unwilling to do anything substantive themselves – like paying for the refurbishment demanded. They’re too cheap to even set up a Downtown Merchants Association, for goodness sake.  

Thirty years ago our Chamber of Commerce was slapped awake from a long doze by an enlightened group of local businessmen, just in time to fight off a proposed Income Tax that would have destroyed Cayman’s prosperity. It was a narrow escape, and the total cost to the Chamber was in the region of $100,000. Will anybody slap today’s downtown-merchants awake, and persuade them to finance a modest war-chest?  No.

It’s highly unlikely. Instead, they will let government do it, with a grand bureaucratic plan that will cost the taxpayers anywhere between $10 million and $50 million. Huh. If they can’t find an enlightened group from within their number, they won’t deserve to survive. All the get-up-and-go of earlier times has, sadly, got up and gone.


Gordon Barlow

Gordon Barlow has lived in Cayman since 1978. He was the first full-time Manager of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce (1986-1988)- a turbulent period as the Chamber struggled to establish its political independence. He has publicly commented on social and political issues since 1990, and in 1998 served as the secretary of two committees of the ‘Vision 2008’ exercise. He has represented the Chamber at several overseas conferences, and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee at an international symposium in Gibraltar in 2004.

You can view all his blogs at: https://barlowscayman.blogspot.com

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  1. Chris Johnson says

    Good article Gordon but as regards scenic George Town at least two Rotary Clubs have offered help and I believe the Chamber of Commence has done as well. Government are just not interested. I for one would be happy to done some benches for residents and tourists alike to enjoy. Rotary put in ten many years ago built with the help of Nothward. No I am not suggesting the inmates borrowed them but I do wonder where they went.

    North Church street by the old bakery could be any part of Kingston and buses parked all over the place and often on the sidewalk level with the road. Some sidewalk.

    I asked NRA to put yellow lines by the fish market after I put in the new sidewalk to,protect pedestrians but no luck. Yet there are yellow lines for the next few hundred yards. It is all a pathetic joke.

    I leave the best for last. Check the new sidewalk built by the Lobster Pot. The pedestrian sign is right in the middle. All wheels chairs may use the road. This is straight out of an English Council project.

    Non Illegitimae Carborundum

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