The Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Mr. V. Arden McLean, JP, MLA on Monday wrote to the Hon. Premier to recommend measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and providing much needed financial relief for Caymanians and residents.
In his letter, Mr. McLean notes that Cayman also needs to play its part in slowing the spread of the virus and must therefore address the poor living conditions for many people. He also acknowledges the Government’s efforts so far in providing economic relief have mainly focused on the Indigent, Seamen, NAU clients, elderly and persons employed in the water sports and transport sectors but called for a number of initiatives geared towards providing some economic relief for working class Caymanians and residents to be implemented.
Mr. McLean explains, "From the outset, the Official Opposition had regular discussions on this issue with people both here and overseas as sadly, the writing was on the wall that it would turn into a global pandemic. Whilst we are indeed living in unprecedented times, it also gives us an opportunity to re-write several policies that were unfair and frankly did nothing to address the hardship being faced by our people. Our goal is to ensure that Cayman not only weathers this crisis, but, emerge stronger as well. This pandemic is a global fight, and Cayman needed to do its part in slowing the spread. This means addressing the uncomfortable knowledge that we have many people living in overcrowded and substandard living conditions. It also requires Government ensuring that the Insurance companies follow the lead of other industries and put people before profit."
The Opposition was therefore calling on the Government to implement a series of bold initiatives as follow:
1. Allow persons employed in the Private Sector to withdraw up to CI$850 per month from their pensions over the next six months.
2. Implement a "Pension Holiday" for the next six months, with the added caveat that either employees or employers can opt out if they choose to.
3. Allow business owners, the ability to access their personal pensions to alleviate business related financial hardships.
4. Increase the "Hardship Allowance", which is currently funded by the Government budget, and ease the requirements to qualify for this allowance, to assist many of our Public Servants who may be impacted by this crisis.
5. Require the Insurance companies to follow other industries and put people before profit.
6. Activate the Price Gouging Control (Emergency Circumstances) Law (2015 Revision), and appointing the Price Gouging Control Commission, with immediate effect.
7. Explore re-housing people living in overcrowded and substandard living conditions in the empty rooms of our hotels and condos.
Alva Suckoo, MLA, Newlands said: "While many public servants may have job security during this time, many of their partners may be impacted by this crisis. We do not believe that they should be using the limited resources of the Needs Assessment Unit (NAU) and believe that both the "Hardship Allowance" and the requirements to qualify for this allowance be eased to allow many of our public servants who may be impacted by this crisis to receive assistance."
Chris Saunders, MLA, Bodden Town West said: "We do not know how long this global crisis is going to last, or the total impact it will have on our economy. Therefore, it is imperative that people have access to their cash and not be dependent on the Government. We have mandated that people save for the rainy days, albeit in their retirement age. However, this crisis is a tsunami. In addition to a pension holiday, we want people to be able to withdraw up to CI$850 from their pension for 6 months. With the markets in free fall and interest rates being close to zero, there is no point in asking people to invest over there when we need the money now at home, here in the Cayman Islands."
Bernie Bush, MLA, West Bay North said: "Many small business owners reached out to us, stating the need to access their pension funds to meet their current payroll needs. We are therefore asking that the Department of Commerce and Investments (DCI) reach out to these small businesses. Their sacrifice is worthy of consideration and the last thing we need is to have more people on the unemployment line."
Anthony Eden, MLA, Savannah said: "Our people, Caymanians and non-Caymanians, are hard-working and will never ever want to find themselves in a position where they are dependent on the public purse to maintain their quality of life. We therefore call upon the Government to implement the initiatives we have set out. Not only are they fair but will also allow our people to maintain their dignity and compassion during these troubling times."