As a backdrop I wish to use two recent publications that appeared in another local newspaper. One of the articles was titled “Humanitarian crisis” grows as thousands depend on charity”; a featured article by Compass journalist James Whittaker of May 15th and the other was titled “Cayman, we have a problem” which appeared also in the Compass dated May 17th by Clare Pettinati.
Both articles were very enlightening and I found them timely indeed.
The first article with its qualified grammatical quotation marks reminds me that the notion of an “humanitarian crisis” were merely the sentiments expressed by the many local charities that have sprung into action due to the presence of the Coronavirus on our shores. So, whilst I too agree and accept that we have far too many Caymanians and families in our midst that are struggling economically (and have been struggling before Covid-19!) and yes; we have to address these inequalities and deficiencies within our economic strata as a matter of urgency; I do not accept that we have a “crisis” on our hands. Not yet anyway.
One paragraph did not sit too well with me though. The one that infers that “As demand increases because of unemployment associated with COVID-19 and the measures taken to suppress its spread, charities and restaurants say they are struggling to cope”.
Let me hasten to say that I congratulate the Government and the Hon. Premier- Mr. Alden McLaughlin and his Team-for the work they have done thus far. I think the government has been pragmatic, measured and cautious in its suppression approach to ensure the safeguarding of the well-being of these islands and the quality of life of ALL of its peoples. And in that I make no apologies.
I also think that the qualified cry out of “a humanitarian crisis” is but a call from the many quick profit takers who operate (and make a mint!) within our robust economy to just as it were “let’s just get back to business as usual” and “let’s do it NOW!”. One only has to go on the internet and read the current happenings in Brazil; where they acted foolhardy and recklessly and now have a real crisis in that their healthcare systems are overwhelmed with the sick and the dying (with no room for them- much less being able to look after other normal patient visits and care) to know that that approach is not one for us to aspire towards.
I say not so fast please!
We need to use this time of closed borders and curfews and lockdowns to reflect on ourselves. Take a look inward. Let’s do a self-audit on ourselves. And that is where I find the second article by Clare Petinati useful.
In this inward analysis; here are a few thoughts that I think we should explore as we move towards re-opening and a return to “normal” again.
• Help to the needy among us - What use is it to boast that we have a Government treasury that is not only in balance but has a projected cash reserve of CI$90.3 million for 2020. In this self-audit of which I speak; and now write about, why not have a “re-think” of how to best to address the accepted low level of poverty and marginalization that does indeed exist within our midst here in my Cayman community. In many ways some financial actions of our own government can appear hypocritical. Why can the government forego millions in revenue dollars by granting substantial tax concessions to medium and large-scale developers; who directly or indirectly cause untold environmental and ecological damage; and appear unwilling to properly assist the poor and struggling within our own Cayman Islands? Is not, in a way, the large treasury cash reserves not by extension their money too? So, we need a serious rethink and a new “action plan” to deal with the poor, and the needy and the marginalized within our own society.
• Selective clientele - In this period of self-reflection and self-audit I also think that we need to move forward with not only new thinking but also new priorities. I strongly think that we need to be cognizant that the Covid-19 disease will be in our midst long after we enact our visionary “re-opening plan” and get our local economy booming again. But in this “new normal” we need to be selective. And we are in an enviable place that we can be! If we so chose; both as a country and as a people. We should ONLY INVITE those high-end cruise ships to call on our shores who can guarantee (yes- “guarantee”!) us that they themselves have a robust and credible Coronavirus testing program and procedures onboard their sailing ships. No more low-cost cruise ships who are themselves struggling financially let alone being able to procure and ensure a robust and credible medical testing regime onboard their vessels for all of their guests. We no longer need to invite sick people off cruise ships- be they low cost or not- onto our tranquil shores and environment.
• Quality and not quantity - Whether we eventually build the cruise ship piers (or just re-adjust our national plans and just do the enhanced Cargo Port- which by the way has a 85% approval stamp already by the people and could be pursued on its own now); I strongly believe that we must be, and we can be; selective in which cruise ships we invite to call on our shores. We need to stress and emphasis quality over quantity. And I am sorry; if the potential long-term damage to our environment and eco-systems is a cost to have the Mega ships call; then perhaps that too is a bridge too far in this “new normal” and they may indeed have to continue passing us by.
• Doing away with favouritism and tour monopolies - The existing retail, water-sports and on-island tour monopolies MUST be a thing of the past. A good rule of thumb to use going forward is that once retailers and tour operators are in good standing with their relevant governmental authorities and are encouraged to be paid up members of the Chamber of Commerce and their Better Business Bureau then their businesses must get equal promotion onboard cruise ships for visits from the select cruise ship passengers that will be allowed to call on our shores because of their quality and steadfast adherence to strict COVID-19 scientific protocols going forward. Failing to implement such a new stringent policy will only contribute to more persons being “left behind” and will in the end lead to a total elimination of the Mom & Pop start-ups of small businesses which is already acknowledged to be the lifeblood of any real all-encompassing successful economy.
• “Caymanianization” of our visitor’s experience - I agree with the article also when she says “our focus should be on building up more boutique hotels, more Caymanian tour guide businesses and attractions….”. Yes, as we reset the clock and realign our priorities; let us too have a mission to “re-brand” our tourism product and its many underlying ancillary services. Let us each accept that the driving force should be in increasing our stay-over tourist visitor segment; who as highlighted by the writer Clare Pettinati and as supported by data from our own Dept. of Tourism; reflect a per day spend of some $4,044 against a mere $57 on average for each tourist landed on our shores.
• Who are we going to rebuild/ reset the country and its assets for? - Here too the great opportunity presents itself for some inward reflection and self-audit. Moving forward will the Caymanian public, its qualified/ experienced professionals be properly utilized and recognized? Or will the same number of persons and companies who have benefited from tax exemptions and other special considerations/ deals which were agreed to by this and previous governments do. For in the final analysis; if you assess the persons who are in need of humanitarian aid now are the same good souls who have not benefitted by the previous ethos of “build; boom and bust” development philosophy adopted by our many previous elected and civil governments!
So, in conclusion, I am all for moving forward economically as speedily as we can. But we must do it with our Christian values intact coupled with all of us now being our “neighbours keeper” by the diligent wearing of face masks; social distancing and other professional medical advice; cause while we must always seek at the national level to safeguard life, in this “new normal” let us refresh our minds and our determination to ensure a consistent approach to the less fortunate and their own quality of life and in the process seek to reset the clock and our priorities.
Let us be more civil and less quick “profit takers” for a better Cayman Islands. Let us win together!