Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart accused the Government of appearing to commit what he called a “cruel hoax” by suggesting that they would be halving the tourism stipend of$1,500 down to just $750 per month in a bid to encourage displaced tourism workers to go back to work and not continue to rely on Government pay outs when tourism returns later this year.
Mr. McTaggart said that Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryant revealed on a radio talk show that the Government’s plan to cut the tourism stipend from $1,500 per month to $750 per month starting in November was a 'scare tactic' on his part to try to get displaced tourism workers to start looking for jobs.
“In other words, he and the PACT Government were playing games with the public,” Mr. McTaggart fumed, adding that the tourism minister acknowledged he had had to make an about turn because of the political negativity linked with such a reduction.
Mr. McTaggart called this an “incredulous admission” from him.
“The Minister and his government have seemingly committed a cruel hoax on Caymanians who found themselves needing assistance during a global pandemic through no fault of their own,” he stated. “No different to the many hundreds of Caymanians who received other forms of Covid-19 related assistance from the government, including access to free quarantine facilities.”
Mr. McTaggart said the Government’s announcement of their intended cut to the tourism stipend had caused many Caymanian stipend recipients unnecessary added stress and concern as to how they would manage their financial affairs after October, in the run up to the Christmas holidays.
“I know because my colleagues and I in the Opposition heard their valid concerns first-hand. I suspect that Minister Bryan and his PACT colleagues heard from them as well. And so, as the Minister has confessed, the political negativity from it forced his hand,” he stated.
He went on to say that he felt the tourism minister was attempting to make people believe the Government never really intended to cut the stipend.
“It was a mere 'trick' to get stipend recipients, who he thought would refuse to work once tourism returned, to find work. Now, we in the Opposition have greater faith in our people than that. We know that if work is available, then the vast majority of displaced tourism workers would prefer to be employed. We also know that the $1,500 stipend is small compared to what most of our displaced tourism workers, including tour operators and taxi drivers, earned monthly from tourism.”
Mr. McTaggart said the Government had frequently stated its intention to reduce the tourism stipend to $750 starting in November and this was mentioned on several occasions and reported in the press.
“It would therefore appear, given Minister Bryan’s admission, that the Government went very far in deceiving the public,” he said.
Mr. McTaggart felt the tourism minister and Government as a whole should be ashamed for carrying out their “cruel hoax” on the Caymanian public, especially on those unfortunate Caymanians who were unemployed through no fault of their own.
Mr. McTaggart said he had implored Government to not cut the stipend amount without the country being open to tourism and tourism establishments back in business providing full employment for people.
“We knew that tourism would not return in full by October, and the stipend would still be needed for several months thereafter. In fact, given that tourism will not return in any meaningful way anytime soon, the Government should increase stipend to $2,000 as we also suggested and requested,” he confirmed.
He asked for an apology from the Government for their “cruel hoax” and to use the upcoming finance committee meeting to increase the tourism stipend to $2,000 per month.