June 9, 2023

The Times they are a Changing

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It is a pity that the excellent speech given by the Premier at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Westin Tuesday 28th September was not televised in its entirety.  Had it been so, it could have been considered by a far wider audience than those clearly interested members of the business community present.  Of the speeches given by any politician in the Cayman Islands in the decades, this may well prove to be one of the most important.  Not only did the Premier agree with local business leaders about the harm wreaked on the local economy and the financial services industry by the flawed application of the rollover policy but he commented in the clearest possible terms that the understanding of many Caymanians on the central question of long term integration of the foreign labour force would have to change.

This is brave politics indeed and the Premier staked his political future on the outcome.  Many of the leaders in the G20 nations would do as well to observe how thus to put the interests of the country before the interests of a political career.  It is timely leadership that the Premier now does so in the Cayman Islands and it is hoped that the Premier’s example will carry his entire Cabinet with him.  Those of his Cabinet who still harbour doubts on the core economics of the Premier’s position should no longer do so.  On the fundamentals, the Premier is correct.

Firstly, came the recognition of what has been a failing for many decades, that is to place the right emphasis on trade and technical education.  Clearly, the typical English educational model is not the right model for Cayman. A population of 25,000 cannot hope to just produce lawyers and accountants and doctors; it needs properly trained builders, roofers, plumbers, electricians, a whole range of trades relevant to the tourism industry, and teachers for which the Premier recognises there has been inadequate Government support to date and hence the new initiatives he announced.

Secondly, to boost a local economy which has no natural resources and to provide job opportunity for six hundred school leavers a year, the way forward to ensure development is a partnership between Government, as a facilitator and a provider of the legislatory framework necessary, and the private sector developer to provide the vision and the capital.  Specifically, three projects are underway, as a result of the Administrations leadership, notably the new five star Dart developed West Bay Beach Hotel, the Shetty Hospital, and the new Economic Development Zone, all of which will provide economic development and job opportunity.

Notably though, the sponsorship of these projects carries with it the implication that the typical criticisms leveled at them should be regarded as irrelevant when analysed in the context of the economic benefits of the people of the Islands overall.  On this point, the Premier is right.  Those who criticise moving an ill located stretch of tarmac, always fail to offer any alternatives on the subject of growth of revenues in the private and public sector and specifically job opportunity.  More importantly, what seems to elude the critics, is the evident causal link between maintaining the status quo whether that should preserve turtle grass or some other inaliable right of the Caymanian on the one hand and on the other hand, the current crime wave.  The problem with the status quo is that is isn’t working.

The third main point of the Premier’s address though was in fact, the most commendable not only in confirming the suspension of the rollover but in announcing a new 10 year work permit. For the first time, a Caymanian politician attacked, head on, the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current Caymanian protection system, specifically, that expatriate jobs, whether in the financial services industry or elsewhere, are in some way temporary pending only the training and promotion of a Caymanian to ultimately replace them.  This heresy has gone on long enough.  The real world model dictates that the right high net worth individuals and financial professionals could only conceivably be attracted to the Cayman Islands on the basis of long term security of tenure for them and their families, and, in the context of a financial services operation, key employees.   Any other approach, sells Caymanians short when it attracts to the Island only the second rate and those with a temporary interest, the flotsam and jetsam of “ back pack” employment.  No financial services industry could hope to compete if it is serviced on a temporary basis by persons of that calibre.  A successful international financial services industry must take a long-term approach and attract persons and financial services institutions of the highest possible calibre. Only by expanding a financial services industry with institutions and people of standing will substantial presence be developed and job opportunities created for Caymanians on the basis of an expanding work force and proper integration.   Caymanians who make the grade will succeed and be integrated.  No industry can hope to support those who don’t and mandatory replacement hurts rather than helps Caymanian employment.  The Premier clearly understands these dynamics.  Hopefully, he will have some time to show the success of his policies to ensure the public opinion fully supports him in this approach when it comes to the ballot box.

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