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Opposition's New Year's Message

Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Alden McLaughlin

Another year is over and a new one's just begun, bringing with it an opportunity for reflection, for resolutions and for turning over a new leaf. Traditionally, it is a time to draw a line under the disappointments, failures and unfulfilled expectations of last year and to look forward with optimism to the promise of a brand new year. For many of us, this is a deeply personal time when we examine our own lives, ambitions and careers and commit ourselves to self-improvement. We tell ourselves that we are determined to do better all 'round, we're going to lose weight, get more exercise, study harder, save more money, spend more time with family, and the list goes on. These personal commitments are important in giving each of us a renewed sense of purpose and a greater feeling of control over our lives and our destiny. To each of you who have made a resolution this year I offer you my encouragement and best wishes and say: "Go for it!"

Just as the advent of the New Year is a convenient and appropriate time for us to take stock of our personal lives and make important changes, it is also an opportunity for us as a people to take a long hard look at how our country is doing. To say that the past year, indeed the past few years, have been challenging is to state the painfully obvious. The global recession has made life much more difficult and even frightening for people around the world. In Cayman, where over the past 40 years we had come to expect continued economic growth year after year, the impact of the global economic downturn has been a real shock to the system. Businesses have closed in record numbers, many rental apartments stand empty and many people have lost or are losing their homes because they simply can't pay the mortgages. Caymanians find themselves unemployed in numbers that in the recent past would have seemed impossible. Compounding this has been a significant increase in the cost of living due to government decisions to increase fees and taxes on a whole range of goods and services and most notably on fuel.

The local economy has struggled and is still struggling as many projects announced by the government on the basis that they were sure to provide economic stimulus have simply not commenced. The continued failure to secure a definitive contractor and viable plan to build a cruise ship berthing in George Town has contributed to making the 2011 cruise ship season among the worst we've ever known. This has had a devastating impact on the incomes of a whole range of people, from taxi-drivers and tour operators to those involved in restaurants and duty free stores in George Town. Added to all this has been the significant increase in serious crime, particularly robberies and murders, all of which have served to further damage Cayman's previous reputation as a safe country.

While the global economy is still in a state of great uncertainty, particularly given the challenges being experienced by the countries in the Euro Zone, there are encouraging signs that the US economy is starting to recover. In Cayman we have had some positives too. The number of tourists arriving by air has rebounded significantly and the Christmas/New Year holiday period has been a good one. The government announced that it achieved a surplus in the 2010/2011 budget year which ended last June. The Premier signed a Framework for Fiscal Responsibility document which has committed the government to more rigorous fiscal discipline and requires greater accountability in government financial matters, including the awarding of government contracts. Recently, Moody's credit rating agency reaffirmed the Cayman Government's Aa3 credit rating indicating that despite the fiscal and economic challenges of the past few years Cayman is still a highly rated, stable country.

As we begin the new year, it is clear that there is much to be done to improve the lives and prospects of those of who live and work and invest in Cayman. There is still much that is positive on which to build but it is plain that Cayman cannot simply go on as we have these past few years. There is a pressing need for more openness, transparency and honesty in government and better adherence to rules and regulations. Concerns about these issues have created a crisis of confidence which is undermining Cayman's ability to recover from the effects of the recession. Government must start to do more than talk and begin to deliver on plans, projects and programmes which will provide the economic stimulus that the country desperately needs. After more than two and a half years of talk, simply promising that things will get better soon is not enough. The country needs action. Budget surpluses are good, but we need to put Caymanians back to work, encourage investment and inspire confidence in Cayman again.

Caymanians and those who live and work here have always been a resilient, resourceful breed. That in large part has been the reason for Cayman's success over the years. In the new year we must all draw on that resourcefulness and resilience as we strive to succeed in this very challenging environment. Collectively, we must also encourage government to improve the way it does business and to press on with initiatives to get the Cayman economy moving again.

Together, working together, I am certain we can continue the success story that is the Cayman Islands.

I wish for each of you a Happy and Prosperous 2012.