By Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin, MBE, JP, MLA
Fellow Caymanians and residents, Happy New Year!
2018 was a year to Celebrate Cayman as we began a two-year journey to commemorate the 60th anniversary of our Coat of Arms in 1958, and our first Constitution in 1959.
In celebrating these two important events, we are also celebrating who we are as a people and the progress we have made in the 60 years since. This is an opportunity to remind ourselves of our history and to involve our children so that they can be aware of the people, events, and times that set us on the path to becoming the successful nation and people that we are today.
We have indeed come a long way in 60 years. My aim, and the aim of my entire Government, is to continue to build on the success of the past and to present the best possible future for all of you, and for future generations of Caymanians.
This we are doing.
Over the past five and a half years the good ship Cayman has been steadied and is on a good course. Government finances are well managed, creating surpluses that have allowed us to repay debt, put aside money for rainy days, fund infrastructure projects, increase salaries for public servants, and increase assistance to those in need, as well as to retired civil servants, seafarers and veterans.
Over the past year we have redoubled our efforts to improve the education of our children, and have expanded support for policing, with a focus on community policing. The purchase of the new helicopter will further enhance our law enforcement and border protection efforts, as well as our search and rescue capabilities. Education and community safety remain top priorities in 2019.
We have also increased our protected lands assets over the past year and provided funding for more public and open spaces. These efforts will continue this year, as will the work to reduce the numbers of invasive green iguanas that are a major threat to our environment.
In 2018 we saw another year of record tourism arrivals. Financial Services, despite continued external challenges, also performed well. The development sector is booming with many projects under way, including a number of new hotel projects that are needed for our growing tourism business.
And we are also continuing to diversify our economy.
We modernised our intellectual property and copyright laws and encouraged the growth of technology business, including financial technology or Fintech business. These efforts are paying off with the Cayman Islands becoming a jurisdiction of choice for fintech and similar businesses with digital assets. The private sector, including locally owned businesses such as Cayman Enterprise City and TechCayman, have embraced the opportunity and are attracting these businesses to our shores. Government continues to play a key role and in 2019 will set up a regulatory framework to assist the private sector in attracting and supporting businesses with digital assets.
With a growing economy, businesses of all sizes are benefiting; and because of this we have seen job growth and greatly reduced unemployment. Indeed, last year saw the highest number of employed Caymanians since 2007. Growth will continue this year and bring more opportunities for Caymanian businesses and the Caymanian people.
We are moving forward with the development of Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman, or WORC for short. The objective of WORC is to oversee the labour market, including the work permit and residency regimes, and to ensure that all Caymanians have a fair opportunity for gainful employment in our growing economy.
The creation of a Cayman Islands Coastguard Service is under way and we have appointed a capable Caymanian leadership team. We are also well on the way to implementing our new Customs and Border Control Department to provide joined-up, modern and more effective border security for our Islands.
We continue to build necessary infrastructure such as roads, improved schools, our major airport, and more with surplus funds and not by increased borrowing. And we are moving forward with plans for a modern waste to energy plant and an integrated waste management solution to solve the problem of our current overburdened landfills.
We are also moving forward with the delivery of the cruise and enhanced cargo port facilities that these Islands need to help secure our economic future.
At a time when significant economic threats are looming, we cannot and must not turn our backs on $245 million of net economic benefit, hundreds of construction jobs, and then decades of increasing employment and business opportunities for Caymanians that the cruise berths will bring. Neither can we turn our backs on the opportunity to modernise and enlarge our now out-dated cargo port.
It is essential that we deliver this critically important project and continue moving Cayman forward, preparing us for the future.
There are other ways that we are preparing Cayman for the future.
We recently had very positive constitutional talks with the United Kingdom and I look forward to completing these early in the New Year to put our Islands in the best possible position to govern our own affairs and continue to prosper as a modern, progressive and successful democracy.
As we enter the New Year I believe that the work that government and private sector have done, and the legislation passed in December, will help us avoid blacklisting by the European Union. But the challenges to our financial services sector will not stop here, so we are prepared to continue defending Cayman and our economic pillars wherever we need to.
The UK, too, is going through its own challenges with Brexit, and the outcome remains uncertain. In an ever-changing world it is therefore vital to seek out new opportunities to benefit our Islands and protect our future. This is why we have increased the engagement done in the UK by our Government office in London over the past two years, as well as direct engagement in Brussels and London by me, my Ministers and other officials.
And this is also why we are starting a new Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation, and Maritime Affairs, and will open a Government Office in Hong Kong this year to better facilitate business from Asia. We will not sit back and hope that business will keep coming our way. We must increasingly fight for it in those markets that are important to us, and to defend Cayman wherever we need to.
We will also continue to work hard at home to ensure that our people have the opportunities to live good, healthy, productive, and happy lives and to be able to share in this miracle that is the Cayman Islands.
I cannot leave you without reflecting that last year has been a year filled with challenges as well as blessings - much of which I highlighted earlier. It was certainly a year that saw us bid adieu to two Governors and recently welcome another. As the New Year begins I wish Governor Roper and his family well and look forward to working with him over the remainder of my term as Premier.
As I said at the start, we have certainly come far over the past 60 years. From humble beginnings we have created a modern and diverse Cayman Islands that is the envy of the region.
Our future is bright.
Despite much change over the decades, our three Islands remain a wonderful place to live and work and to celebrate family and community. At our core, Caymanians are still a hardworking, welcoming, caring and loving people.
I pray that we as a people never lose those traits.
On behalf of my Government, and from my family to yours, I again wish each of you and your families God’s richest blessings and a very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.