The growing pains of a small colonial territory, such as the Cayman Islands, are today varied and complex. Traditionally, the growing pains of a British colony, or territory, have revolved around the removal of the colonial administration, or at the very least the struggle for greater internal self-government. At some point in the future, Cayman will have to reckon with this challenge, because there will come a time when the colonial relationship will no longer be fit for purpose.
Cayman has had its fair share of growing pains including natural disasters, and sadly, poor political leadership that has stymied its growth economically and socially. Growing pains can be viewed as challenges to be confronted in our personal lives, or collectively as a society. Iron ore, to become usable metal, must first go through the furnace; hence, growing pains are a necessary evil.
2020 has provided an unprecedented number of growing pains for the Cayman Islands. These include being blacklisted by the EU, same sex marriages, the cruise port referendum, an earthquake, the continued manifestations of an unfair economic system, and the coronavirus pandemic. Much can be written about Cayman’s growing pains; however, in this article I have chosen to focus on two challenges, namely the coronavirus pandemic and our current economic system, which marginalizes and holds back a significant portion of Caymanians.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was a pandemic and issued certain procedures and practices to follow in the fight against this public health crisis. By this time, COVID-19 cases had been reported in the USA, Mexico and in the Caribbean, namely the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The first known case of coronavirus in the Cayman Islands arrived the next day on March 12, 2020 aboard the Costa Luminosa. This cruise ship was welcomed without any concern for the possibility of the deadly coronavirus being on board. The PPM government, without any prior preparation to fight the pandemic, allowed a passenger to be transferred to a local hospital without any testing for coronavirus. The passenger died two days later from the virus, which means that he had to be infected when he was landed.
Subsequently, the government reacted to the death of the passenger by announcing policies and restrictions to help reduce the spread of the disease. With few exceptions, residents of the Cayman Islands complied with the directives and emergency laws that were enacted. By the grace of God and the commitment of our doctors, nurses and medical support staff fighting on the front lines, Cayman has fared well in its pandemic response. The Premier the Hon. Alden McLaughlin should also be recognized for his role in the fight against the pandemic.
However, we have not heard the last of it, as there will be new challenges when the borders are open. The government should not be pressured by big businesses to open our borders and put residents at risk. This virus will not be defeated until an effective vaccine has been developed.
Let’s take a closer look now at our current economic system, which I would venture to suggest, requires a clinical overhaul, if we are to create a more just, equitable and sustainable society for Caymanians.
With the development and growth of Cayman’s tourism and financial industries over the past 60 years, the islands have created a modern-day economic system. While this economic system has been adopted by other small states in the region, perhaps what is unique to the Cayman Islands is the distribution of the wealth created by the economic system. For the purpose of this discussion, I have chosen to name our economic system Cayman’s Two-tiered Greed and Pain Economic System which has been enabled by the Hon Premier and his PPM government.
It is estimated that under Tier 1, or the Greed portion of the system, 80% of the wealth created in the Cayman Islands flows to the wealthy 20% of the islands’ residents, namely big business, real estate agents, expat lawyers and other professionals. Tier 1 employs mostly expat workers and a few token Caymanians.
Under Tier 2, the remaining 20% of the wealth created is distributed to the remaining 80 % of the poor, homeless, Caymanians in low paying jobs. Cayman’s Greed and Pain Economic System is driven mostly by the financial industry, legal and real estate markets. Certain level of greed/profit is considered an essential part of the capitalist enterprise. However, greed is intoxicating and can destroy you.
You cannot have a conversation about economics and wealth distribution in Cayman without discussing education and unemployment. The Hon. Premier and his PPM government have had seven years to fix unemployment for Caymanians, but has failed to do so. It is hard to believe, but the pandemic may have created an opportunity for the government to fix this problem once and all. I trust that the Premier has finally seen the direct correlation between the issuances of work permits and unemployment of Caymanians. However, we will have to wait to see how many work permit printing machines Mr. McLaughlin has ordered for the new year, as I suspect we will see thousands of permits being issued to new waves of foreign workers. I predict that Caymanians will have to wait for new political leadership to fix this problem.
The government took over the management of the Cayman Islands Public High School in 1964. About the same time, Sir Vassel Johnson, who is considered the father of our financial industry, started laying the foundation for the sector. Today, we have a first world financial industry, and in my opinion, a third world public high school system. Why has our school system failed? Employers on island often cite poor education and poor training as the reason why young Caymanians are not hired. However, this does not explain why Caymanians returning with degrees from overseas universities cannot find jobs. The same government that says it wants to help Caymanians with employment has a record of rejecting qualified Caymanians for less qualified foreign workers. The real problem is a systemic and institutionalized barrier to the hiring of Caymanians.
The government spends $69,000 per year per prisoner and spends $20, 000 per year for a scholarship for an undergraduate degree. Anyone who has been lucky enough to get an undergraduate scholarship knows that it does not cover the cost of first year expenses for an undergraduate degree. As a society what we seem to be saying is that it is more important to lock our young people up than it is to educate them. The premier and his government seems to justify in their minds that this is a good thing for Cayman.
The solution is to make education a national priority and improve the standards of academic and technical training. Funding for undergraduate degrees should be increased by 50%. No education and no jobs equal poverty and suffering. This equation justifies having more police, a bigger court system, bigger prisons and more social services, just to name a few. Having said that, I believe that the bigger problem here is the thinking of the PPM government to keep Caymanians in a state of poverty.
The pandemic appears to have created other political opportunities. I recently read glowing editorials in the local media about what Cayman’s future should be after the pandemic. These editorials were politically correct, but sadly they did not reflect a Caymanian perspective, as there is no mention of the role Caymanians will play in such a future. Be aware of he who offers to plan your future; you may become extinct. If the truth be told, there has never been a plan that prepared Caymanians for roles in a middle-class society. A colossal failure by our political leaders. Is this a new role for certain sectors of the media? Is this another growing pain that Caymanians will have to overcome? Caymanians have learned to overcome the growing pain of devastating hurricanes, and they have learnt to stand up to a deadly pandemic. Caymanians are resilient and I believe that they will learn to change the political regime that imposes on them an unfair economic system.
Under the PPM government, the Cayman Islands have been at sea and adrift without navigational charts or compass. It is mindboggling when you realize that educated and Christian-minded politicians have treated their fellow Caymanians as second-class citizens and therefore expendables. Greed has become our compass and we have lost our way. I argue that Caymanians need to rethink our social values and our political priorities. I further argue that Caymanians must change the way they think about politics and the selection of their politicians. I recommend that they try participatory democracy.
Perhaps the lyrics of the great Bob Marley, best speaks to the change in thinking that Caymanians have to make. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look.”
Finally, politics is an art and not an exact science and, therefore in my opinion, we need politicians to exercise compassion and empathy. We need politicians who are prepared to build an economic system based on equity and inclusion of all Caymanians. We need politicians who have the political will to pass the necessary laws to uplift the poor and less fortunate amongst us. No Caymanian, including status holders, who want to be a part of Cayman’s prosperity should be left behind. When will we find a visionary politician to right the injustices visited on us and lead us to the promised land?
To achieve this goal, we must hold our politicians to a higher standard of performance and accountability. We must demand a new approach to our politics and distribution of economic wealth. We need an economic system based on equity and inclusion of all Caymanians. In the May 26, 2021 general elections, the Caymanian voter will have the opportunity to choose politicians under a new style of politics, participatory democracy. It is time for Caymanians to take their heads of the sand and breathe the air of political and economic freedom.
About the Author
Gilbert Connolly EMBA, BBA, DIP. Mgt.
Gilbert is a retired Cayman Islands senior civil servant.
The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do necessarily reflect the views, opinions or thoughts of any organization, group or individual.
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