By Lindsey Turnbull
Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart and MP Joey Hew gave a press conference on Tuesday at which they spoke about the necessity for the PACT government to act immediately to help ease the economic burden developing for many people in the Cayman Islands. Shock inflation of recent months was being felt in Cayman as a result of the Covid pandemic which had caused a disruption in supply chains, along with the quadrupling of shipping costs, all further exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Mr McTaggart said that government would be able to assist people get through the current and imminent economic hardship high inflation rates were causing because they had plenty of money available.
“Government finances are in good shape,” he said. “With the increase in cost-of-living, government is making even more revenue with import duties on those increased prices. Government should not benefit from rising prices to the detriment of our people. Let’s ease the burden as best we can,” he said.
To assist a broad sector of the public, Mr McTaggart urged the government to continue with the pension holiday programme, which is due to end next week, along with helping small businesses pay health insurance for their staff. Instead of allowing these programmes to end, they ought to extend them until the end of the year, he said.
Other measures that the Opposition implored the government to take were to give a cost-of-living allowance to the public service, increase the stipend made to pensioners, retired seamen and those dependent on assistance, reduce import duties on gas for six months, and continue with the Covid stipend. One quick and easy fix Mr McTaggart wanted the government to make was to defer any proposed increases in water rates by the Water Authority for at least six months. He would also ask the Civil Service to think of ways to reduce costs for consumers.
Mr Hew said that the Opposition was not blaming the government for the inflation levels currently being seen, they were simply asking the government to act now, as the PPM government had done when Covid hit.
Mr McTaggart furthered: “Inflation at the level we are seeing is entirely new. We’ve had decades of benign inflation: we’ve enjoyed decades of it, little or no inflation, interest rates at historic lows and where are we today, that’s all taken place within the last 12 to 24 months. It’s not this government’s fault. We are advocating taking action now on their part to deal with it.”
The Opposition Leader said government had the resources to deal with the situation
“We have seen from the financial reports that have been tabled in the House that government’s finances are performing better than budgeted, so, at the end of March, they had in excess of half a billion dollars in cash. They have now taken and borrowed another 300 million. Government is flush with cash,” he said. “They are able to have some flexibility here to help our people. If they don’t act now the situation will get worse and as it gets worse the demands are going to get greater so we are trying to encourage them to act now.”
Mr McTaggart said Opposition were happy, if necessary, to go as far as lobbying utility and water companies if it meant easing the pressure on people trying to make their monthly payments, should they deem the government not acting in this regard.
Mr McTaggart detailed one such example where the government could step in was where the Water Authority currently had a request in to increase their prices. Mr McTaggart suggested that the government quickly decline that request.
“It’s things like that that can be done quite quickly to make some progress,” he said, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation by adding: “These are really unusual times in terms of where the world economy is and where it is heading.”
Mr McTaggart said government had to do everything it could to avoid creating a dependency-type of situation where people require on government for their existence, but in these unprecedented times direct assistance was needed.
Mr Hew said: “We cannot just target one set of people. We have to ensure this is fair and equitable across the board. Immediately one of the best ways to do that is to address the duties on fuel because that affects everyone. It affects businesses, it affects households and that will certainly have an impact on utility bills. The summer is here; it’s going to get hotter. Fuel prices are going to rise. People are going to have to choose between having the internet on and staying cool and [paying] their mortgage.”
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