In its first public meeting since the 22 May elections, the People’s Progressive Movement-led government on Saturday told an audience that exciting times were in prospect, the economy was improving and changes were on the way.
The assessment was disputed later by former Premier McKeeva Bush, who accused the party of taking credit for many of his accomplishments, saying he would see if the administration delivers: “This is nothing new. The country cannot withstand this much longer. People are really suffering, and if the PPM can make things better for the country, then praise God. Let’s see what happens.”
Mary Miller Hall boated at least 100 onlookers to hear reports from each ministry, particularly welcoming newly vindicated Minister for Education, Employment and Gender Affairs Tara Rivers to the dais in the wake of Friday’s Grand Court decision confirming her eligibility for government service.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, also minister for home affairs, led the colloquy, detailing plans for immigration reform, particularly as regards the rollover policy, which previously expelled expatriates after seven years.
Speaking amicably of Mr. Bush’s policy proposals in the face of a 2013 exodus of as many as 1,600 workers, Mr. McLaughlin said changes were needed “to make Cayman attractive, help businesses and balance the population in our best interests”.
He repeated previous promises to drop key employee provisions and extend term limits to 10 years, and said that 1,522 people holding Term Limit Extension Permits, all due to expire on 28 October, were likely to be reprieved so as to stagger their departure.
Work permit fees for small businesses would be reduced while granting the permits themselves would be speeded up by bringing routine approvals into the Immigration Department, reducing the welter of examining boards. Final recommendations would be ready in January.
Minister for Finance Marco Archer told the group that government had not dipped into its overdraft facility, and was unlikely to need it before the 31 October expiry of the Interim Budget. He promised a full 2013/14 budget in “the final week of September, giving us five weeks to deliberate” before end October. The government has a $46 million overdraft for the full financial year ending 30 June, 2014.
He predicted a $542 million operating budget, $30 million in capital expenditures and $640 million in revenues in 2013/14.
“We’re not proposing any significant new revenue-raising measures,” he said, hoping to reduce the cost of living by reducing the 75-cent per gallon duty on the 31 million gallons of diesel fuel CUC consumes annually.
He also vowed to rationalise the system of duty waivers, saying “it has become a free-for-all, and we want to ensure discipline. Discretion is good, but it needs to be guided,” he said.
Minister for Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure Kurt Tibbetts listed prospective building projects, boosting employment, spending and the economy, including Dart Realty’s $15 million Kimpton Hotel project, replacing the Marriott Courtyard, and another $150 million Dart facility.
“We are meeting with a group of investors to discuss a five-star Conrad Hotel in Beach Bay,” while a 230-room hotel was planned for the East End’s Heath City, the Dr. Shetty-sponsored hospital scheduled for a phase-one opening in late February.
“This will begin before the hospital opens,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
Negotiations were under way for a 15-year, $360 million golf, residential and commercial project in Frank Sound, he said, requiring extension of the East-West Arterial highway to the area. Because government was unable to fund the construction, officials were seeking a memorandum of understanding enabling finance.
Ms Rivers detailed a series of educational initiatives, saying she was compelling modernisation of Cayman’s 40 Early Childhood Education centres.
She announced that Cabinet had approved all next year’s scholarships in a timely fashion, and that her Gender Affairs portfolio was researching why the academic performance of high-school boys, largely equivalent to that of girls in primary school, dropped so precipitously in secondary education. “There is something systemic in the problem,” she said.
Minister of Health, Sports, Youth and Culture Osbourne Bodden announced a major partnership between the Health Services Authority and a large US healthcare organisation. While he declined to name the group, he likened it to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins and Florida’s Baptist Hospital, which, among other things, “will deliver a high grade of training” and improvements.
In the absence of Minister of Financial Services, Commerce and the Environment Wayne Panton, Councillor Roy McTaggart announced revenue increases, efficiency initiatives, boosted company registrations and efforts to streamline the opening of Health City.
On the environment, Mr. McTaggart said he hoped to bring the stalled, decade-old National Conservation Bill to the LA “before the end of the year, while boosting advanced marine parks, lionfish research and protected grouper spawning areas.
Finally, standing in for Minister of District Administration, Tourism and Transport Moses Kirkconnell, Councillor Joey Hew predicted cruise tourism would remain at current levels, stabilising its years-long decline, while the administration was meeting the Hyatt-Britannia Group to hammer out details of another hotel project.
A UCCI hospitality course would start in the autumn, training Caymanian professionals to staff the variety of facilities in prospect.
Mott McDonald engineers had been appointed for the environmental impact study of the new George Town cruise-ship berths, Mr. Hew said, while accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers carried out a business case for the project.
This story has been changed from the original to reflect some corrections and clarifications.