By Michael Jarvis, London UK
The Hon. Speaker of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, McKeeva Bush, has made a passionate appeal to his countrymen as the territory gears up for two events poles apart in their impact on the community.
There’s Cayman Islands Thanksgiving Day, a time of community cohesion, while at the other end of the spectrum, an historic event which has divided opinions across the territory.
“We are now days away from a national Cruise Port and Cargo Facility Referendum. I say this for I hope that, at the Thanksgiving tables, and in our districts and workplaces, that we can acknowledge our differences, yet draw our own conclusions,” Speaker Bush says in his official Thanksgiving Message.
The proposed major infrastructure project has attracted wide-ranging debate and opinion on what the government sees as a critical facility to underpin the territory’s continued growth as a beacon of progress balancing development with social and environmental concerns.
In his statement, Mr Bush observes that “with this proposed facility enhancement, I am reminded that controversy goes hand in hand with progress...and this has been a trend for ages.
“I say this,” he noted, “for I am not as minded to be on the offensive as I was a young political stalwart. Nevertheless, I will not stand silently when others impugn my name publicly, or anonymously. I will say no more about it, other than petty jabs are often made from misinformed positions.”
The West Bay representative currently serving his ninth term in the Legislative Assembly notes: “While this Referendum is the biggest political football in our history, I caution that pumping it up with misinformation and emotive rhetoric can be to the detriment of those whose jobs and business could fall by the wayside without a proper facility.”
He adds, “as the saying goes, in times of need we cannot look for 'any port in a storm'. We only know what we have now; a cruise berth and cargo-port facility that are in dire need of upgrades.”
“The future of Cayman tourism is no numbers game," he emphasises.
"A seat at the table, and to succeed in the new world economy, needs a scientific, diplomatic and practical formula that is not easy to achieve even for those embroiled in the competitive market forces."
“In my time, I have built sports facilities, port facilities, safeguarded our financial services made sure great steps were taken to create better health care in the development of Shetty Hospital and many other developments in commerce.”
Speaker Bush also points to the growth trajectory of the Cayman Islands as evidenced in the unanimous passage of the 2020-21 National Budget.
“The Hon. Premier and Hon. Financial Secretary outlined the fiscal proposals... and emphasized that a strong economy, with stable finances, will surely result in a successful Cayman.
“As I have stated, this budget is the best and most productive one that I have seen in my lifetime. God willing, if all goes well, the new decade of the 2020s, and beyond, will take all the people of Cayman to greater heights.
“Especially so, in terms of the growth in opportunities, the enhancement of public services, shoring up our economic pillars, and the well-being of all our people.”
And he went to list a number of achievements which are contributing to the positive transformation of the territory:
“Today the Government has to its credit”, he said, “a fully modernized airport Infrastructure; plans are fully moving forward with major roadworks, including a new public transport system; a vibrant and revitalised George Town; a mental health facility; improved schools infrastructure; as well as modern and improved education and health systems plus a modern waste management system that includes a waste to energy plant, with the current landfill capped and remediated.”
The impressive accomplishments, Mr Bush notes, are now poised to be complimented - provided the Yes vote wins the referendum - with a new cruise and enhanced cargo facility.
With the addition of work on a proper minimum wage, “a tremendous amount of programs” to enhance the livelihood of civil servants; increasing their salaries and continued increases for our elderly veterans and others in need, plus developing parks especially designed for young children, the Speaker concludes that “we are moving the country in the right direction.”
“I am proud to have been a member of a generation that emerged from the quaint “Islands that Time Forgot”, and into the exposure of the modern world," he declares.
“But,” he implores, “we must always acknowledge our debt of gratitude, and we recently paid homage to the sacrifices of Caymanian mariners, and the selfless service of veterans and casualties of war. We owe it to present and future generations to stay true to the course they set, and to build on their efforts. So, let us give thanks!”
Giving thanks is at the core of values for the Cayman Islands Thanksgiving, Mr Bush, the leader of the Democratic Party counsels.
“While not everything we see abroad is a good fit for Cayman, I am happy that we have adapted this one. Across our three Islands, and in the wider Caribbean region, we can use this as a new tradition for posterity. Especially so, as, in early December, we mark the conclusion of another Hurricane Season.
“I need not evoke the memories and the dire effects of names like Dorian, Irma, Matthew and Maria. Suffice to say, in Cayman we still recall the devastation of Ivan and Paloma, and, as the saying goes, ‘Those who feel it, know it’.
“This passage of the storm season is one aspect of topical existence common to our region, and we certainly empathise with those who felt the wrath of Mother Nature this year; in particular, our friends in the Bahamas. Government and civil society alike have extended help in various forms to assist in their recovery.”
Speaker Bush says this has also been a time of reflection as he marks 35 years as an elected ‘servant of the people’ as he puts it.
“Looking back over my tenure, there is no easy parallel to explain to a young person how different life is today.
“It has been both a distinct honour and a privilege to serve the interests of the people of these islands over these years. I recall, with all humility, the words of the Good Book: ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’. I appreciate and consider this to have been the hallmark of my life thus far.
“Having been a publicly- elected servant for over 3 consecutive decades, 35 years, in fact, I can say that I love and respect my community – both my specific constituency, as well as the broader district of West Bay, and indeed the three Cayman Islands. While others love it too – they don’t love Cayman any more than I do!”
And he recalls growing up.
“As children we walked to school, and most everywhere else, with our bare toes counting the steps over rough terrain. There was a natural curfew at sunset, when the swarms of mosquitoes and invisible sandflies drove man and beast to seek refuge. Our night-time songs, reading or homework were done to the flickering glow of lamps, until electricity finally reached our communities.”
On a more sombre note, Mr Bush admonishes that “in the free world, patriots would herald that God and Country reign supreme, and the reality is that none of our goals could be realized without good support on our home-front. I speak as a thankful husband, a parent, and grandparent.
“Good friends have also helped me deal with life’s challenges, as we face at times – and in all this the constants that remained have been my beloved family, and a true and faithful God Almighty!”
Comparing politics of today with yesteryear, he notes, “I entered the political fray at a time far removed from what obtains today, yet still very fresh in my memory. Those were milestone years, when we broke barriers for tourist arrivals, and when the roots of our financial and commercial industries began to really bud.
Now, years later, and of the year that is soon to conclude, I would say that 2019 has been exciting, yet challenging.
"As everyone knows, I love public engagement...I daresay sometimes a bit too much. But, that is the heart of democracy, which is what our Governments have practiced for years.”
The Hon. Speaker of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly concludes his 2019 Thanksgiving Message with this appeal:
“So, in closing, as we enjoy the cool early Christmas breezes, I am reminded of the beloved hymn, to which I urge everyone to abide, all year long: That is, “Count your blessings, name them one by one”. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
I wish everyone an enjoyable and safe Cayman Thanksgiving.
May the Good Lord Bless and keep us all, as we go into the festive season, and into a bold new year ahead!”