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Speech

This month saw the launch of the Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control Service but already the new intelligence-led approach of the service is bearing fruit.

Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin

Published 21st February 2019, 6:18pm

For Caymanians not inclined to open a business, a high quality education is a crucial gateway to future employment and so I am grateful to those in this room and beyond who support the work being spear-headed by the Education Minister. Amongst other measures, the Minister and the Chairman of the Education Council Mr. Dan Scott recently returned from a fact finding tour in the UK looking at how we can learn from their experience, including through an upgraded and modernised curriculum as a key tool in helping to raise standards in Cayman’s public schools. Also critical is our ongoing investment in enhancing our school infrastructure – both at primary and secondary levels. And we continue to encourage, and support as best we can, private schools to enhance their facilities as well. Of course as important as a curriculum and school buildings are, attracting and keeping good teachers is especially key – and so we have ensured that the remuneration of our teachers is being increased. I have spoken before about the various vocational studies initiatives – including the very successful City & Guilds vocational studies programme run by PWD. This has grown over the past few years and today provides a variety of training courses to some 17 Caymanian apprentices. Our plans are to expand this to serve at least 50 students next year with training provided in a number of fields including air-conditioning, plumbing, electrical and carpentry. The improvements in education will help future generations but we also need to further improve the position of Caymanians in the job market now. As I indicated earlier, unemployment among Caymanians has fallen significantly, but now is the time to put in place improvements that will maintain that position as we go forwards. That task will be spearheaded by the new Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman – or WORC – Department. WORC officially went live this month and implementation of the changes will follow through in the next few months. The first of those will be the online jobs clearing house – due to go live around Easter - through which all jobs will be advertised allowing Caymanians full access to the opportunities available. Improvements that the government has promised in the work permit regime are also progressing. I wish to acknowledge the Chamber’s assistance in helping develop a new simplified and modern work permit system. We have more to do to road test the proposed changes and we have undertaken to work with business as we do so. As a country, we need to embrace the opportunities of growth but it is time that we do so in a planned and measured way. For that reason, we are consulting the public on a new National Planning Framework for the Cayman Islands. This encompasses several things to which the Government is already committed. For example, it recognises the work we have been doing to modernise this country’s infrastructure. The framework incorporates the much needed revitalisation of George Town and also reflects the ambitions in our National Energy Policy. It also seeks the views of the public on new ideas and approaches to how we develop and ensure our future is sustainable. I hope the Framework will ignite a national debate about our future. To that end, I would like to thank the Chamber for hosting an event on the framework last December. We have extended the consultation deadline until the end of this month to give everyone as much chance as possible to contribute their ideas and I would encourage everyone in the business community to take part. We are of course continuing to invest in the infrastructure this country needs for its future. We are picking up the pace on George Town revitalisation and I would like to say how welcome it is to see the appointment of Mr. Colin Lumsden as the Town Manager to take that work forward. Having put in place some of the necessary infrastructure improvements the time has now come to reimagine what our Capital might be like in the future. The Government wants the exercise of planning and delivering that future to be a fully inclusive process. For that reason, we will put in place a steering committee of stakeholders to guide the project. I hope the Chamber will accept our invitation to be represented on the committee. We want the committee to involve the wider community and so we are planning a town hall charrette to engage everyone in the future design of our Capital and its town centre. To those who will be involved as the work progresses, I want to encourage you to be bold. This is an opportunity to think more radically about what might be possible in terms of how we utilise the space and the activities we want to see in the Capital. The Government has previously removed some of the restrictions that prevented sensible development. So I want the committee to explore the freedom we will give them to develop exciting plans for innovative mixed-use development in George Town, including considering sensible building heights as necessary to encourage investors to redevelop and breathe new life into our Capital. We also continue to invest in much-needed road infrastructure. This year we will progress the second phase of the Linford Pierson expansion project that will give four lanes between the Agnes Way roundabout and the Bobby Thompson/Smith Road traffic lights. Nearing completion is the connector road and new roundabout joining Printers Way to Crewe Road in the proximity of the Mango Tree restaurant and bar. In the next few months, the Olympic Way-Walkers Road connector will be constructed to help reduce congestion on Walkers Road and more effectively segregate school traffic. Later this year, work is due to start on the extension of Godfrey Nixon Way from the Blue Marlin restaurant on Eastern Avenue to the Fish Shack on North Church Street creating an important link for cruise and port traffic. Looking a bit further ahead, design work is under way for the expansion of Shamrock Road and Hurley Merren Boulevard from 4 to 6 lanes. This will ease congestion that motorists moving east encounter. This work will commence later this year. We are also looking at how best to move forward later this year with the much needed continuation of the East West Arterial Road through to Frank Sound, with phase one connecting Hirst Road to Northward. Meanwhile, work will be completed at the airport and it will be opened at the end of next month by HRH the Prince of Wales. This will be a proud moment for all who call this place home. Much has been said about the delay and added costs of the airport expansion. I will say this, when the airport expansion was designed some years back we considered what we thought was affordable at the time. As our finances improved we looked again at what was needed to make a very good new airport experience even better – and so broadly half of the additional spend was the result of positive decisions to improve the quality of the redeveloped airport for the benefit of travellers. I and my Government are satisfied that decisions taken in this regard were sensible and affordable and I am satisfied that the public will also agree once the expansion is complete and the airport is fully operational. As we think about the future of our Islands, we must also consider Cayman’s future place in a changing world. To that end, I announced last year this Government’s intention to create a new Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation and Maritime Affairs. The new Ministry has now been established, with me as Minister, and will focus on advancing the economic and political interests of the country, the Caymanian people and the business community and will make it easier for potential overseas investors to do business in the Cayman Islands. This includes business that may flow to Cayman as we seek opportunities to participate in the UK’s Global Britain Initiative post-Brexit. It will take direct responsibility for the Cayman Islands Government Office in London and a limited range of existing government departments and entities, including the Shipping and Aviation registers. Over time the Ministry will develop a select network of international offices to better achieve its stated purpose. Plans are already under way for the establishment of an Asia Office in Hong Kong. I must thank those business leaders, led by past President Byles, who gave their time to the development of that business case. An office in Washington is also being considered for 2020 as is one in Brussels if it is thought useful after the UK leaves the European Union. In setting up both a new Ministry and an Asia Office, the case for change is underpinned by the view that international issues will become increasingly important to the wellbeing of these Islands. The Government accepts that there are costs and indeed potential risks in this approach. However, having done the business case, we believe the benefits I have outlined are significant enough to justify the investment we are making. This same analysis will be done prior to any new international offices being established. I have concentrated today on the Government’s economic record and our view of the future of our economy. Before I sit down; however, there a few other matters I thought would be helpful for Chamber members to hear about. Firstly, whilst I am confident that our economy will remain very strong over the next 12 to 18 months; the picture is less clear after that. Indications are that growth in major economies will slow over the next year. I believe that the momentum we now have, coupled with sound finances, place us in a good position to manage any such slowdown but the Minister for Finance and the entire Government are paying close attention and are bearing this in mind as we start planning for the next budget cycle. The latest constitution talks were held in London in December. Our requests have been generally well-received and I am encouraged by the willingness of the UK to respond positively to what I believe to be a sensible and pragmatic set of proposals. Clearly, we will not get everything we want, but the negotiations are proceeding well and I hope they will be brought to a positive conclusion in the coming months; hopefully in time for our Constitutional celebrations that kick off in July, another key event in this year’s calendar to Celebrate Cayman. I also wish to acknowledge the Governor, Mr. Martyn Roper, for working in such a spirit of partnership since his arrival – including assisting with and supporting the new Ministry. The Governor and I are also working together to ensure the country’s safety and security and we share an ambition to reduce crime and criminality and improve the security of our borders. This month saw the launch of the Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control Service but already the new intelligence-led approach of the service is bearing fruit. One good example is that at the same time that we launched the green customs channel at the airport and higher personal import duty limits, both customs revenues and successful interdictions by border control officers are up. Further innovations will follow during this year. Just a couple of weeks ago the border control service began a procurement process to introduce new immigration and passport control kiosks, very much like the ones you will have used at various international airports. We expect a pilot utilizing four such kiosks to be in place before the end of 2019. Also this year, we will introduce a fully online visa application process. Another important step is the creation of the new coast guard service. As well as being part of that border security network, the coast guard has other vital functions related to safety at sea, including maritime search and rescue. The next significant development for the service will see the opening in the coming weeks of the new operations and rescue coordination centre that will play a key role in ensuring Cayman can coordinate search and rescue and other activities on a 24/7, 365 day basis. The approach the Government is taking can also be seen at the community level, including the drive to reinvigorate neighbourhood policing. Alongside things like the creation of new neighbourhood watch schemes – something the Government has been very keen to see – this more accessible, visible and responsive policing is having a direct and positive impact on the lives of Caymanians and visitors and benefiting business too. Delivering that kind of direct impact on the lives of Caymanians is central to what this Government has set out to do and it is not just in the area of crime reduction that our success is being felt. We have responded to concerns that Caymanians are being priced out of the housing market by pushing forward the National Housing Development Trust’s affordable housing programme. Last month, ground was broken on a scheme in East End that followed the successful completion of 16 new homes in Bodden Town last year. As the six East End homes are finished, work will begin on eight more homes in West Bay. The Trust is also buying 10 acres on which to build in North Side and recently bought a 24-acre plot of land in George Town. I thank the Trust and the Minister for Housing for their tireless efforts. The government has also significantly increased the stamp duty thresholds for first time Caymanian home buyers, allowing greater numbers of Caymanians to purchase first time properties without having to pay stamp duty, or to pay it at discounted rates. This represents a welcome leg up on to the property ladder for many young Caymanians and their families. Elsewhere the Government has continued its work to create a healthier environment and to preserve more public land, particularly beaches for the enjoyment of our people and visitors. We have procured 634 acres of protected land, increasing the total amount to 4,111 acres – about 6.3 per cent of Cayman’s total land mass. This year we will continue the policy of acquiring land for public use, including beach land and land for parks. The East End housing scheme will also create a new recreation park in the district. We have purchased the property used by the Scranton community for many years as a park. This purchase safeguards public access to that important community space in perpetuity. Government is working directly with the Central Scranton community on plans to improve the property. Land has also been acquired to create a park that will serve the Red Bay and Prospect constituency. The communities will also help guide the public use of the park. Work will commence this year on Smith Barcadere once planning and design is completed. And the South Sound Boardwalk has been completed and provides a safe walking zone as well as preserves beautiful vistas of the sea for the enjoyment of all. Work continues on the Integrated Solid Waste Management project and after more than five years of work and negotiations we are nearing agreement with the preferred bidder, DECCO. The project addresses the solid waste management needs for these Islands for the next 25 years. This is a design, build, finance and operate Public Private Partnership that will not require any capital investment by the Government. This is a key deliverable and we are very pleased to have made it to this juncture. Much is being achieved by this government and it is all being done in a fiscally responsible way. We continue to operate with surpluses even higher than those that we budgeted to achieve. Our capital investments are being paid for from cash without increased borrowing and we continue to repay government debt. This Government’s track record of delivery and sound stewardship of the finances is the result of the hard work done by my Ministers and Councillors, as well as the Civil Service. I thank them for the support they give me and for the work they do every day for the people we serve. Ours is indeed a Unity Government – one where we may take different views but where we are all willing to work together towards our shared ambitions for these Cayman Islands. We have achieved much together but our ambitions are not yet fulfilled. We have a lot left to achieve and just over two years in which to do it. With the same determination and pragmatism demonstrated in our first two years, I have no doubt we will achieve what we set out to do. The best - the best - is yet to come.