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Government tackling challenges “head on”

Business 20 Mar, 2023 Follow News

Premier Wayne Panton at the RF CEO Conference Photo Janet Jarchow

As business leaders contemplated the global economic outlook at this year’s Royal Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook Conference, Premier Wayne Panton gave his address, talking about the indicators that spoke to Cayman’s economic growth. These included GDP at 3.7% in 2022 and 4.0% in 2021, and 8,900 more jobs created relative to the pre-pandemic period of 2019.

“When compared to the low of 2020, the economy has added over 14,700 jobs,” he confirmed.

In addition, the unemployment rate for Caymanians was at a record low of 3.6%, while those without a job for more than a year were getting opportunities for training and retraining to get them back into meaningful employment.

“Our real GDP per capita in 2022 was estimated at US$70,790, higher than the United States and most other advanced economies,” Premier Panton said.

But success was not purely measured by money and government had started measuring Cayman’s social progress, looking at where Cayman sat in the United Nations’ Human Development Index, a summary measure of achievements in three key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life (the Health Index); access to knowledge (the Education Index); and a decent standard of living (the Income Index).

For the Cayman Islands, the 2021 Human Development Index value was 0.877, which fell within the range of 0.80 and 1.0 in the HDI Report 2021/2022. Countries in this group are classified as having a Very High Human Development Index, the Premier said.

But Cayman also faced some serious challenges, the most urgent of which were the cost of living and traffic. Premier Panton said the government was “committed to tackling these problems head on”.

“The government is considering a raft of new measures to address this cost-of-living crisis. We are currently evaluating policy options such as: raising the minimum wage; considering cost of living adjustments to salaries; incentivising adults already in the workforce to get technical and vocational training to upskill or retrain themselves – investments which will help them to qualify for higher paying jobs with good benefits, and we are diligently working to find sustainable and responsible ways to lower the cost of electricity, food, housing and healthcare,” he advised.

One long term fix was to take a close look at development planning and zoning laws.

“We need to create more mixed-use communities that are more walkable and denser than the way we currently develop,” the Premier said. “Denser, more walkable communities would reduce the need for people to get in cars for simple errands, or for all residents to get in a car to commute to work or school.”

They would also enable public transportation to thrive, cycling to thrive and promote walking which promotes health and wellness.

“Well designed, mixed-use communities are good for community health, good for the environment and good for our economies,” he advised, adding density did not automatically mean sky-scrapers.

“Greater density can be achieved through allowing auxiliary dwelling units on a traditional lot, allowing smaller lot sizes and/or adding two to three storeys to residential dwellings,” he confirmed.

The East/West arterial road was another priority to alleviate traffic pressure.

“We are determined to get that important element of road infrastructure in place as quickly as is legally possible – yet, we know that we need to offer interim solutions now to improve the quality of life for thousands of residents who are suffering each day,” he said.

Such solutions would include incentivising car-pooling, offering subsidised bus services from the outer districts on weekdays and discouraging the typical pattern of a single occupant in hundreds of cars making their way into George Town.

“We will also take a tougher stand on restricting the number and types of cars that can be imported,” he said. “In the medium term, we need to create and resource an effective public transport system that reduces the number of cars on the road. Making public transportation more regular, more comfortable and more available will improve its usage.”

Premier Panton said due to Cayman’s small size and rapid growth, it would always have challenges with mobility and affordability.

“It is expensive to transport goods and services to our islands. And, because we only have so much land and we cannot fill it up with American style highways. But, through our policies and our focus on improving the lives of our people, we can make sure and steady progress improving our transportation systems, making our country more affordable and improving the quality of life for our citizens.”


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