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Letter regarding banking fees and cost of living concerns

Local News 07 Aug, 2023 Follow News

Roy McTaggart

Three weeks ago, on July 12th, 2023, I wrote to Premier Panton regarding several concerns to do with the cost-of-living crisis that continues to challenge many Caymanians. This letter is attached.

As of today, I have had no response from the Premier. But his most recent press statement gives me some small hope that he has paid attention. More needs to be done, however, than making a press statement. The Premier needs to act on the issues I raised and tell the country what progress is being made. 

I urge the Premier to move forward with the recommendations in my letter as a matter of urgency. If not, I fear that, yet again, the Premier and his Government are failing to take the action necessary to relieve hard-pressed Caymanian families facing the cost-of-living crisis.

In particular, I asked for confirmation that conversations with local banks were continuing. I also provided various recommendations from my recent Parliament debate on bank interest rate increases.

I was pleased that our banks, in the end, did agree to delay any further interest rate rises by 30 days. But this will not prevent further drastic increases in loan payments, particularly for mortgages, that borrowers face. My colleagues and I, in the Opposition, do not agree that nothing can be done and must be done.

As we have recently seen, interest rates continue to rise, and at least one other increase is expected in a few months. It is imperative that more is done, including banks proactively considering suitable programmes to avoid any further increases in loan payments caused by interest rate rises. This may mean extending the loan payment period, or other practical programmes, to keep loan payments affordable for borrowers – particularly mortgage holders. 

The point is to ensure that we do not see families getting further into financial stress and losing their property over the next year or two.

In his recent press release, the Premier states that he ‘hopes and expects’ that banks will engage in further dialogue. I would have expected something firmer than that. Premier Panton needs to call the Banks to the table to discuss the specific recommendations I have given him, along with any others he has in mind. That is what the Premier’s press release should have indicated had been done. Not just to speak of ‘hope and expectations’.

In my letter, I have also called again on the Government to assist our people in other ways. I have spoken on these before, including Government insisting that the Water Authority not raise consumer rates and the Government working with other utility providers to do similar. Also, for the Government to temporarily remove the duty on fuel paid by utility companies – this will benefit every consumer directly.

And of course, once more, I asked the Premier, who is also the Minister of Finance, to implement the reductions to stamp duty for Caymanians buying property that was agreed with the unanimous passage in Parliament of the Private Members Motion brought over a year ago by MP David Wight (GTW) and MP Barbara Conolly (GTS). Given the concerns with housing costs, this should have been enacted long ago.

Lastly, I again asked the Premier to increase the Ex-gratia payment of $950 per month to $1,500. Most of those receiving the assistance are elderly with little income and rely on this help to survive each month. During the Progressives’ tenure in Government, the payment was raised from $500 to $950. This assistance needs to increase further due to the dramatic increases in food and everyday costs. Our elderly need the help.

As I mentioned several times - action by the Premier is what is needed. So, again I urge Premier Panton and his Government to act with some urgency on the proposals in my letter, especially as they are finalising their next budget. Failing to do so would be failing to provide relief to many hard-pressed Caymanian families struggling in this cost-of-living crisis.

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