By Staff Writer
A ten-point plan has formed the foundation of the first Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) of the PACT (People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) government presented in Parliament on Wednesday by Hon. Minister for Finance and Economic Development Chris Saunders.
Built on a philosophy of prudent fiscal management, Mr Saunders said the SPS is based improving the lives of the people of the Cayman Islands.
The actual budget will be presented in November but outlining the key points of the revenue and expenditure projections, Mr Saunders painted a picture of stable government finances with growth projected over the period of the SPA from 2022 to 2024.
“The PACT government has crafted this SPS on strengthening out pillar industry of financial services, rebuilding and improving our tourism industry following the devastating impact of COVID-19 and diversifying our economy through new and developing industries,” the Finance Minister and Deputy Premier stated.
Outlining the priorities over the next four years, Mr Saunders listed ten areas that they will focus on.
These are; improving education to promote lifelong learning and greater economic mobility, ensuring and equitable and sustainable healthcare system, providing solution to improve the wellbeing of the people of the Cayman islands “so that they can achieve their true potential.”
He also spoke about strengthening good governance, supporting climate change resilience and sustainable development, increasing social justice in the workforce, utilising sports to enhance the lives of the people, building a modern infrastructure, and improving the financial services and tourism sectors as key pillars of the economy.
Mr Saunders presented an optimistic recovery and growth outlook for the jurisdiction initially over the next fiscal year spreading through to the four year span of the SPS.
He said there were no plans of any additional taxes or fees as the government looking to he expansion of the construction industry with a number of major private and public sector projects coming on stream from which to derive import duties alongside consumer demand.
He said the construction industry will be a main economic driver in the coming period for both government finances and providing employment especially for Caymanians.
“This government has made it a policy priority to ensure that Caymanians have meaningful participation in the workforce and expect that this policy will shift the labour market dynamics.”
The Finance Minister anticipates that in addition to more Caymanians being employed, the government’s approach “will result in an overall unemployment rate moving from a forecast of five per cent in 2021 to 4.4 per cent in 2022 and then averaging 3.5 per cent in the remaining three years.”
Mr Saunders also shared correspondence from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office(FCDO) which he saw as an endorsement of the government’s fiscal management in its first three months in office.
The letter from Paul Chandler, Director of British Government’s Overseas Territories Office, said in part: “I am content that the Cayman Islands Government(CIG) can present the SPS to the Parliament and proceed with the proposed borrowing plans as the SPS forecast will remain in compliance with the borrowing limits set out in the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility. These would not require formal approval from the British government.”
It goes on to state: “Despite the fiscal challenges that COVID-19 has brought the SPS demonstrates a commitment to sound financial management and shows the CIG’s (Cayman Islands Governments) public finances in a strong position. It is particularly noticeable that you have maintained a high level of reserves and anticipate returning to an operating surplus by 2022 under these difficult circumstances.”
Mr Saunders termed it as “an important and significant endorsement of the government’s plan.”
With the government now embarking on implementing its policies, Mr Saunders said their focus is on “the safety of the people of the Cayman Islands and the recovery of this economy are the top priorities of the PACT government.”
PREMIER WARNS CRIME SURGE AND VACCINATION DELAYS COULD SET BACK RECOVERY
Speaking in support of the Strategic Policy Plan(SPS), Hon. Premier Wayne Panton, who just a few days ago gave a detailed overview of the PACT government’s policies to the Chamber of Commerce, noted that Wednesday’s presentation came three months to the day since his PACT coalition government was sworn into office.
“We have hit the ground running. As a team we are growing from strength to strength on a daily basis.”
In expanding on the detail of what is contained in the SPS, Mr Panton was however mindful of two pressing issues facing the Cayman Islands; the vaccination campaign that’s key to reopening the borders and the recent string of gun crimes - issue which he has addressed extensively recently.
He particularly lamented the recent shootings in which two young men were killed.
“If we do not address the crime problem,” the Premier warned, “there’ll be nothing here for visitors to want come to be enjoyed.”
Cayman’s attraction as a preferred holiday destination is also linked to reopening the borders, which in turn is linked to the success of the ongoing vaccination programme.
Mr Panton said that was the second major challenge facing Cayman and again urged those persons who have not yet had their vaccine to ignore what he called “misinformation and mischief” about the vaccines.
He said said the government was still aiming for its target 80 per cent of the revised population number of 71,100 to safely open the borders to international visitors.
Premier Panton pointed to a worsening situation and sympathised with sister UK overseas territory the British Virgin Islands currently in the grips of a community spread of COVID-19 with over 1,000 cases in just a matter of weeks.
At press time Hon. Leader of the Opposition Roy McTaggart, leader of the Progressives was unpicking many elements of the SPS presented by the PACT coalition, pointing out that in part that they had inherited stable government finances left by his former government.
The former finance minister challenged the policies of the PACT coalition in part accusing them of “cancelling Christmas” by scaling back or dismantling policies left by the Progressives which he said were benefiting Caymanians.
While he acknowledged that the SPS package did contain some credible initiatives Mr McTaggart said they lacked detail.
“We in the Opposition were expecting more than what we heard from the Finance Minister and the Premier,” he stated.
SPEAKERS REFLECTS ON CUBA AND HAITI
At the start of the meeting Hon. Speaker McKeeva Bush reflected on current development in Cuba and Haiti.
Cuba is being rocked by a waves of nationwide anti-government protests over food shortages, power outages and rising COVID-19 cases. Mr Bush said a Cayman aid package was being coordinated for the people of Cuba who are facing food shortages, increasing power outages and rising cases of COVID-19.
In Haiti, tensions are spreading following the assassination of its President Jovenel Moise and the attempted murder of his wife.
The Speaker expressed concern about the situation in the country and its wider implications.
(Caymanian Times will have more coverage of the PACT administration’s Strategic Policy Statement and reactions.)