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Welcome speech

And so this year we are celebrating the conferral of our Coat of Arms, conferred by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 which you will see emblazoned just about everywhere you go.

Premier Hon. Alden McLaughin

Published 1st November 2018, 5:4pm

Your Excellency, it is my honour and a real privilege to be the first to congratulate you on assuming the Office of Governor of the Cayman Islands. I also take this opportunity to again welcome you to these islands, you and your lovely wife Elisabeth. I do hope that your children, Matthew and Jessica will be able to visit here before too long, I expect they shall be as enthralled with these islands as most who visit here. I was also delighted that you initiated a video call with me early last week and that we had the opportunity to meet, Iím not sure if this is correct Ė ďvirtuallyĒ. I am very impressed with your extensive experience overseas and in particular your experience dealing with Overseas Territories and I have to tell you sir that in my view, any man who likes bicycles and books, has a head start in my estimation. I could not have believed that I would be doing this again, just six months since we welcomed the last Governor. You sir, are the fourteenth Governor of these Islands since we had such things, and there were four Administrators who preceded you. You are my, I think seventh Governor, Smith, Dinwiddy, Jack, Taylor, Kilpatrick, Choudhury, yes my seventh Governor. So I have had some experience in dealing with the Governors and in the transition that that involves. You have come at a particular juncture in these islands when we are again facing some significant international challenges and I am encouraged that you have some considerable experience in dealing with agencies such as the OECD. We shall very quickly I believe, call upon that experience as we seek to address the current challenge which has been extant now for almost two years, of the EU blacklisting exercise of jurisdictions which they conclude the practice or engage in harmful tax practices. Sir, these islands have come a long way in my, I like to think relatively short lifetime. Though we were first claimed as British pursuant to the 1670 Treaty of Madrid, I think it was 28th September 1670 and we have been settled since the early 1700ís, it is really the last 50 years or so, 60 years if we stretch it, that these islands have become what most people consider the modern Cayman. And so this year we are celebrating the conferral of our Coat of Arms, conferred by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 which you will see emblazoned just about everywhere you go. That, sir, is our first symbol of national identity and one of which we are incredibly proud. And so over the course of this year, we have been having various celebrations, we are coming towards the close of the year, but I do believe there will be an opportunity for you to participate in one or two of those before the yearís celebrations are over. That Coat of Arms is extremely symbolic; it reflects our link, our constitutional link with Jamaica, going back to the very early days of our settlement through the pineapple. The British Lion, the wavy blue marks on it represent the sea, the three green stars the three Cayman Islands, the turtle which has been a symbol of Caymanís identity ever since we were settled. It provided food, it provided work, it provided revenue from export and aside from that Caymanians tend to love eating the creature, something that many people from elsewhere find a bit unusual. And then there is the thatch rope on which it sits, which again was one of our very earliest industries and below it is a verse from Psalm 24, verse 7 I believe from memory, ďHe Hath Founded It Upon the Seas which underpins the Coat of Arms but also underpins the backbone and the culture of this country. We were founded on the basis of Christian beliefs which still persist, still pervades, still guide decisions made by those of us charged with that responsibility in this country. It is not so everywhere, but it is certainly so here. We start this Parliament with prayer every day, we start Cabinet with prayer every time Cabinet meets and you will find as you move around almost any public meetings that there is, you get the National Song, the National Anthem and a prayer, thatís the Cayman way. And so, sir, as I said quite recently to your predecessor, take time to get to know these islands, to get to know the uniqueness of our people. We do not have one of those very vibrant and flamboyant cultures, there are subtleties that run through everything Caymanians do and say and if you are not perceptive and if you do not take time to learn, youíll miss a lot of messages because Caymanians are generally not very overt, particularly if they are going to be critical of you. Except if you listen to the talk show in the morning, but donít do that, sir, itís not good for your health; itís not good for your digestion. But sir, there are a number of significant challenges as I alluded to even with respect to our relationship with the United Kingdom. I do believe that the Governmentís relationship with the United Kingdom is on very strong ground and that is why we have been able to, not only withstand but weíve been able to work through some of these challenges. Many of these sir, are not the making of the Civil Servants at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They are the will of the British Parliament in many instances, and a great deal of misperception remains, and exist in the UK and more broadly across Europe and indeed other places in the world, about what we do here in terms of business, particularly financial service related business. And this unfortunately affects the way we are dealing with in a number of respects. I speak in particular, sir with respect to the Anti Money Laundering and Sanctions Act and the clear constitutional overreach which Parliament of the United Kingdom exercised in seeking to legislate domestically for territories such as the Cayman Islands, not just us, but a territory such as the Cayman Islands, outside the scope of the constitutional order which presently exists. Those are some of the challenges that we have to deal with on a regular basis, more recently we had another unfortunate issue with the NCA. We have managed to resolve all of these things, I cite these not because Iím complaining, really, about them you know about them, Iím sure you do, but to say that your role sir as Governor is not an easy one. I fully, fully understand the challenges of walking that line between your responsibility as a representative of the Queen and an appointee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and your role as Governor in helping to protect, defend and help these islands to continue to prosper. The really good governors that Iíve had to deal with have been able to walk that line very effectively, and I do hope, sir that in time to come I or those who follow me are able to include you in that relatively short list of good governors. The role which you play in the Cabinet is also important, notwithstanding the fact that under the current constitution the Governor has no decision making role or veto power in the cabinet. The role as Chairman provides, I believe, a great opportunity for you to receive feedback from the Cabinet as well as Cabinet to have your views on particular issues. I have found that over the course of my time not just as Premier, which has just gone five years, but my previous term as a Minister, to be very invaluable to have an objective one hopes, perspective on matters which though locally relevant will benefit from a broader perspective. I also personally value the opportunity to discuss a range of issues with the Governor on a regular basis, indeed our constitution requires regular consultation between the Premier and the Governor and I do hope that we can swiftly arrive at an arrangement, so that we are able to do that in order to help facilitate the business of the Cabinet and the Government more generally. There are some other challenges ahead and Iím hoping not to embarrass the Chief Justice by even raising this particular one in his presence, but we have the long standing issues about I suppose I should use the colloquial term, gay marriages and the rights of same sex couples which is one matter which is currently before the court and the ongoing dialogue and debate and if IĎm frank, pressure from the UK government for the Cayman Islands and some of its other territoriesí to accede to their thrust for these islands to validate such relationships. These are difficult areas, very difficult areas, there are mixed views in the community there are mixed views even in my Caucus and in my Cabinet. They are very difficult to navigate politically. I almost lost my previous government over those issues, so I say this sir, not to cause you not to rest well tonight, but to give you a little insight into some of the very significant issues which these islands face and those of us who bear the leadership roles face. Happily, happily in financial terms the Cayman Islands is in as good a place from the Government perspective as it ever was and government revenues are strong and solid. The economy is doing far better than any economy in the region. GDP growth has just been published for the previous 6 months at 4% estimated to level out at 3% for the year when most places around the region are at 0.5% some even less. Unemployment has fallen from a high of 10.5% in 2012 to 3.2% currently so the government is pressing ahead with major infrastructure projects over the course of the previous term and the first 15-16 months of this term, the government has not raised any taxes or duties, nor have we borrowed any long term money. We continue to pay down government debt, so far weíve paid down $135 million in the last five years. Moody has renewed our credit rating at AA3, the highest in all of the overseas territories one of the highest in the region. So weíre doing very well in that aspect but that is not to say we donít have problems and social issues, one of the great challenges we have faced over the course of these many years is how do we balance the significant immigration which has been a major factor in our success. When I was born, which I like to think wasnít all that long ago, the population was 8,500 people itís now about 65,000 people. Weíve got about 23-24,000 of those are people on work permits. We have 135 nationalities are mixed up in that 65,000 people. As a friend of mine in Barbados said the Cayman Islands is the United Nations of the Caribbean. There is no other nation in the region that even comes close to that diversity in terms of nationality and itís made for tremendous success on a number of fronts from the availability of cuisine, to different cuisines that are here, to the sports that we play, to the attitude of people, itís been hugely positive in many ways but it comes with its share of social strains. And one of the greatest challenges that we face is the continued perception of many local people, that they do not get fair opportunities, particularly when it comes to employment in terms of promotion and upward mobility. And so my government, like governments before have struggled and are struggling with this issue and we are doing a number of things we hope which help to deal with this. One, we have created an economy and an environment where there is a great availability of jobs and opportunity. So now we have to make sure that the Caymanians that are willing and able to do these jobs get them. Which means a better education at its core, better education but also fairness by employers in selection and so one of the things we are doing is combining what were previous functions of Immigration dealing with the work permit application process and the department of labour relations into a new department called WORC (Workforce Opportunities Permanent Residency Cayman). And we are also pressing ahead with the creation of legislation of a Fair Opportunities Employment Commission to be able to effectively investigate and sanction discrimination in the workplace. I give you this, sir because I do not wish for you, nor do I wish to be accused of painting an overly rosy picture of these islands, we do have our share of challenges, but in the context of the region and in the broader context of the world this place is still paradise. And so, sir, I have gone over these issues a little to give you some flavour I think of the challenges that lie ahead and the opportunities for you to make a real difference and a real contribution to helping to move these islands forward. I want to finish by thanking, not just thanking, but commending the Hon. Franz Manderson for the exceptional job he has done as Acting Governor. Most people might think that Franz and I get on like a house on fire, well generally we do, but weíve had our share of ups and downs too, itís just the nature of the respective posts we hold and I fear sir that you and I are likely to have a similar experience over time. But I do hope, sir, as Iíve said to the Overseas Territories Minister Lord Ahmad that you are able to stay on long term. The last thing these islands need is disruption and so I hope, that when that time comes, I am asked for, and that I will be able to provide you, with a glowing reference. Welcome to Cayman sir.